Asian markets ended mostly higher, as commodities-related share gains in Tokyo offset concerns over the U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman's acknowledgement of a possible recession.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 Stock Average rose 1.5% to 13389.90. The index lacked direction during the morning on renewed fears of a U.S. recession following comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. (See related article .)
However, "the effect of the rising yen was strong enough to offset negative sentiment," said Hiroichi Nishi, general manager at Nikko Cordial Securities. Toshiba /zigman2/quotes/205628942/delayed JP:6502 -1.11% was among Thursday's big gainers, rising 5.9% after it said unit Westinghouse Electric is in final talks to take orders from two U.S. power companies for next-generation nuclear power reactors.
Other electronics share were also higher as the dollar climbed against the yen to ¥102.85, the highest level since March 12. TDK /zigman2/quotes/208948266/delayed JP:6762 +2.22% rose 3.4% and Nikon /zigman2/quotes/203281219/delayed JP:7731 -2.54% gained 4.1%.
Commodity-related shares benefited from a $12.40 rise in gold futures to $900.20 in New York. Inpex Holdings /zigman2/quotes/206689846/delayed JP:1605 +2.14% gained 4.5% and Sumitomo Metal Mining /zigman2/quotes/205273301/delayed JP:5713 +0.94% added 4.3%.
Car makers were Thursday's big decliners, after Nomura Securities cut the ratings of the biggest industry players due to a rising yen and decline in demand in the U.S. Toyota Motor /zigman2/quotes/203803129/delayed JP:7203 -0.80% lost 1.5%, Honda Motor /zigman2/quotes/200490352/delayed JP:7267 -1.77% dropped 1% and Nissan /zigman2/quotes/208298710/delayed JP:7201 -0.76% fell 1.5%.
Meanwhile, in mainland China trading, bargain-hunting in steel makers led the Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks both Class A and Class B shares, up 2.9% at 3446.24.
Steel makers rebounded after recent sharp falls on uncertainties over annual iron-ore price talks with Australian miners. Baoshan Iron & Steel rose 5.4% after falling more than 27% in the past two weeks. Wuhan Iron & Steel ended up 8.3% after falling around 31% over the same period.
Other blue chips also rebounded on hopes the government will issue some market-boosting measures over the three-day weekend. Stock markets in Hong Kong and China will be closed Friday for the traditional tomb-sweeping day. Trading will resume Monday. The government occasionally issues new policies during holiday periods to allow time for the news to be digested. China Life Insurance ended up 4.5% while China Yangtze Power rose 5.1%.
However, real-estate developers fell on concerns over further credit tightening and the prospect of weaker corporate earnings. China Vanke ended down 0.8% and Poly Real Estate Group fell 0.8%.
Hong Kong's blue chips tracked the mainland's gains, boosting the benchmark Hang Seng index 1.64% to 24264.63.
Local China-related blue chips posted gains, with Ping An Insurance /zigman2/quotes/210315058/delayed HK:2318 +0.89% rising 7.4% while China Life Insurance /zigman2/quotes/202359856/delayed HK:2628 +0.80% advanced 4.2%. China Construction Bank /zigman2/quotes/208974133/delayed HK:939 +0.51% ended 3.3% higher and Bank of Communications /zigman2/quotes/203442771/delayed HK:3328 +0.48% rose 2%. China Mobile /zigman2/quotes/200868736/delayed HK:941 +0.74% gained 1.7% on a broker upgrade, but fixed-line operator China Netcom /zigman2/quotes/204678507/delayed HK:906 -0.88% fell 2.1% after Daiwa cut its rating and trimmed its price target for the firm.
In Seoul, gains by steel producers and shipbuilders helped the Korea Composite Stock Price Index finish 1.2% higher at 1763.63 -- its best finish since Jan. 14.
Shipbuilders and steelmakers rose on China's gains. Hyundai Heavy Industries climbed 4.2% while Hyundai Mipo Dockyard surged 6.7%. Posco jumped 6.2% on the expectation that it will increase steel product prices, while Daewoo Shipbuilding ended 2.8% higher following reports that Posco has expressed a strong desire to acquire it.
Select technology firms -- such as LG Electronics which rose 2.7% -- widened gains Thursday on hopes for good first-quarter earnings results, said analysts.
LG Display made early gains on news that it will supply small liquid crystal display panels to Apple in the second half of 2008, but retreated to end up 0.4%.
Elsewhere, Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 closed up 1.9% to 5608.9 on good volume after hitting a five-week high of 5609.4.
Resources surged after commodity prices rallied, with BHP Billiton up 3.7%, while Rio Tinto gained 3.8%. Woodside rose 3.3% and Newcrest ended up 4.3%. Financials also outperformed despite a series of broker downgrades, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia up 2.5%, National Australia Bank up 4.7% and QBE Insurance up 3.0%. And Centro Properties went into a trading halt after rising 71% to 50.5 cents on reports that Centro had bids from six potential suitors who were looking to pay as much as 90 cents a share for the company. (See related article.)
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