By Mariko Ando, CBS.MarketWatch.com
TOKYO (CBS.MW) - Tokyo stocks ended higher Thursday as Wall Street's gains encouraged investors to scoop up bargains despite domestic concerns about corporate earnings and political machinations.
Stock markets in Taiwan, Singapore and Sydney also rose on hopes for a quicker-than-expected recovery from the world's biggest economy following an upbeat growth report from the U.S. But Seoul and Hong Kong ended lower.
The benchmark Nikkei Average rose 78.32 points, or 0.8 percent, at 9,997.80 points. On Wednesday, the index sank 1.1 percent to end below the key 10,000 mark for the first time since October. The broader Topix Index added 0.7 percent at 971.77 points.
A surprisingly positive report on U.S. growth and the Federal Reserve's decision to leave rates unchanged for the first time since December 2000 helped fuel a late rally on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.5 percent, while the Nasdaq also rose 1.1 percent. See Market Snapshot.
Even so, buyers played it cautiously in Tokyo. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sacked popular Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka amid a conflict between ministry officials and senior bureaucrats.
Some commentators say the move could weaken the cabinet's approval rating, hampering its ability to pass reforms.
In the currency market, the dollar fetched 132.93 yen late afternoon, vs. 132.84 yen in New York late Wednesday.
Exporters rise, but tech stocks fall
Toyota Motor (NYS:TM) (TKS:JP:7203) rose 2.1 percent to 3,450 yen on hopes that a recovery in the U.S. economy will boost the company's overseas business. Honda Motor (NYS:HMC) (TKS:JP:7267) advanced 1 percent to 5,320 yen.
Banks gained ground despite fears over their ability to clean up their bad debts amid ongoing selling of cross-held shares. Mizuho Holdings rose 1.8 percent to 232,000 yen and Asahi Bank fell 1.3 percent to 80.
But NEC lost 0.8 percent to 1,050 yen. Electronics giant (TKS:JP:6501) is expected to revise down its estimates and forecast a loss of about 50 billion yen ($376 million) for the current fiscal year, the daily Nihon Keizai said. In October, the company had projected a profit of 30 billion yen.
Fujitsu (OTC:FJTSY) (TKS:JP:6702) , which forecast wider-than-expected losses this current year, slipped 1.6 percent to 815 yen.
China stocks shoot up
China's stocks shot up as investors welcomed a promise by the top regulator to keep stock markets stable. The Shanghai B shares rallied 6.8 percent to 1,491.67 points.
"We will only push ahead any reform under the precondition of assuring market stability and protecting investors' interest," a local newspaper quoted Zhou Xiaochuan, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, as saying. The key index had sank over 15 percent this year amid fears a government plan to sell its stakes in listed companies would lower the stocks' value.
Hong Kong falls, Taiwan jumps
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed down 31.66 points, or 0.3 percent, at 10,725.30, giving up earlier gains. The index has lost 5.7percent since the start of this month.
China Mobile (HKG:HK:941) fell 0.7 percent to HK$22.30.
Smaller rival China Unicom (NYS:CHU) (HKG:HK:762) lost 1.3 percent to HK$7.50. The mainland's second largest wireless carrier said its subscribers to its global system for mobile network had grown by 5.1 percent as of December 31 compared with November 20. It also had 27 million subscribers as of December 31, against 25.7 million as of November 20.
Hutchison Whampoa , which has heavily invested in third generation cell phone services, closed 0.7 percent lower at HK$72.25.
Exporters ended lower hit by profit-taking. Li & Fung (OTC:LFUGF) erased earlier gains and closed down 3.4 percent at HK$10. Johnson Electric Holdings (OTC:JELCF) (HKG:HK:179) , the world's second-largest maker of micromotors, dropped 4.4 percent to HK$8.70.
Taiwanese stocks jumped, led by a rally for heavyweight chipmakers. The Weighted Index closed up 1 percent at 5,872.14 points. The stock market will be closed from February 7 to 18 for the Lunar New Year holiday.
United Microelectronics (NYS:UMC) rose 3.6 percent to NT$46.60, ahead of fourth-quarter business results due later in the day. Bigger rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (NYS:TSM) advanced 0.6 percent to NT$87.50.
Seoul stocks lower
South Korea's Kospi ended down 0.2 percent at 748.07, giving up initial gains.
Volume leader Hynix Semiconductor dropped 3.2 percent to 2,440 won. Germany's Infineon Technologies AG said it's in talks with the South Korean chipmaker on a possible alliance in the area of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chips. See full story.
Media reported that alliance talks between Hynix and Micron Technology (NAS:MU) ended last week with no success and no future talks currently scheduled.
Semiconductor-parts maker Mirae fell 1.3 percent to 2,705 won and Samsung Electronics (OTC:SSNLF) lost 0.8 percent to 300,500 won.
News Corp. jumps in Sydney
Australia's All Ordinaries Index rose 0.9 percent to 3,404 points, led by a 2.8 percent rally for News Corp. (NAS:NWS) to A$13.7.
Westpac Banking Corp. advanced 1 percent to A$15.80. Australia's third-largest bank will unveil further job cuts later today, the Australian Financial Review said.
In New Zealand, the benchmark NZ Top 40 inched up 0.2 percent to close at 2,125.67 points.
Market heavyweight Telecom NZ fell 0.9 percent to NZ$5.43. The company is scheduled to post its second quarter and half year results February 19.
Elsewhere in the region, Manila's PSE Composite rallied 4.2 percent to 1,361.94, the highest level since July 31, 2001. Broad-based issues gained ground after the government released the better-than-expected GDP growth of 3.4 percent in 2001.
Property firm Ayala Land shot up 8.5 percent to 6.40 pesos while Philippine Long Distance Telephone (NYS:PHI) added 2 percent to 510 pesos.
Singapore's Straits Times Index gained 1.8 percent to 1,786.89 points.