By Shri Navaratnam and John Phillips in SingaporeAnd V. Phani Kumar in Hong Kong
Asian markets ended higher on solid Wall Street gains and as investors looked beyond the unrest in Egypt.
Japanese stocks were buoyed by advances in exporters and resource-sector shares, although a rise in Australia was capped by a drop in insurance companies as a severe cyclone approached Queensland state.
The Nikkei Stock Average climbed 1.8% in Tokyo for its best percentage gain since early December, closing at 10457.36. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.9% to end at 4796.51, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index finished 1.8% higher at 23908.96, and Indonesia's JSX Composite rose 1.1% to 3480.83.
Stock markets in South Korea, China, Taiwan and Vietnam were closed for the Lunar New Year holidays this week, while those in Hong Kong were open for a half-day.
Regional sentiment got a fillip after the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above the 12000 mark for the first time in 2½ years Tuesday, buoyed by encouraging earnings and manufacturing data.
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Receding worries about the unrest in Egypt also helped underpin demand for riskier assets. However, investors continued to watch the unfolding situation there. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's announcement that he will step down from power after his term expires did little to appease a crowd of demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square, who were calling for the president's long reign to end immediately.
"There's been a global alignment in terms of positive economic data and also some good corporate reporting out of the U.S.," said Macquarie Private Wealth client adviser Marcus Droga in Sydney. "Obviously the Middle East is still a potential concern, but that's cooled for the time being."
Japan shares followed the upbeat trend set by U.S. markets, with auto makers underpinning broad-based gains.
Toyota Motor (NYS:TM) rose 3.3% and Nissan Motor jumped 3.1% after the companies reported solid U.S. auto sales for January.
Casio Computer (TKS:JP:6952) soared 6.6% after saying it had swung to a group net profit in the April-December period, as margins improved due to cost cuts and on a restructuring in its mobile-phone-handset business.
NTT Data (TKS:JP:9613) climbed 6.7% after reporting strong profit growth on Tuesday.
Firm metal prices boosted several resource-sector stocks, with Sumitomo Metal Mining (TKS:JP:5713) rising 3.2% and Pacific Metals (TKS:JP:5541) edging 2% higher in Tokyo. BHP Billiton (NYS:BHP) climbed 2.4% and Rio Tinto (NYS:RIO) added 2% in Sydney, and Jiangxi Copper (HKG:HK:358) jumped 3.4% in Hong Kong.
Despite the strength in Australian mining sector shares, the broader market gains were more modest as worries grew about the approaching tropical Cyclone Yasi.
Insurers slid on worries the sector may be hit by big claims, with Insurance Australia (ASX:AU:IAG) dropping 2.4% and QBE Insurance Group (ASX:AU:QBE) losing 1.7%.
Qantas Airways fell 1.3% after saying it was suspending Cairns and Townsville flights until Feb. 4 due to the cyclone. Maryborough Sugar Factory, which grows sugar cane in Queensland, dropped 5.1%.
Retail stocks jumped in Hong Kong during the shortened trading session, spurred by above-view December retail-sales data. Luk Fook Holdings International (HKG:HK:590) jumped 6.4% and I.T Ltd. (HKG:HK:999) gained 5.7%.
Macau plays were mixed on Tuesday's gambling data, which showed January revenue rose 33% year on year but declined the previous month. SJM Holdings (HKG:HK:880) jumped 6%, while Wynn Macau (HKG:HK:1128) shed 1.2%.
In Jakarta, foreign funds bought select consumer and bank stocks on hopes for strong 2010 earnings. Bank BCA rose 3.5% and food producer Indofood ended 2.2% higher. Indonesian financial markets will be closed Thursday for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Write to Shri Navaratnam at firstname.lastname@example.org