HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — Stocks in Asia mostly rose Wednesday as U.S. economic data and comments from Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke helped lift the mood in global markets.
South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 +1.87% climbed 0.2%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO +2.19% advanced 0.7% and Taiwan’s Taiex added 0.2%, while Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK +2.09% defied to broad trend to decline 1.3%.
Setting the stage for gains in Asia, shares climbed in the U.S. Tuesday, after housing data was well received. Additionally, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke defended the U.S. central bank’s monetary policy, sending a strong signal on ongoing asset purchases. Read: U.S. stocks build gains on housing data.
“In the current economic environment, the benefits of asset purchases […] are clear,” Bernanke said in remarks to the Senate Banking Committee. Read: Bernanke: QE benefits clear, risks manageable.
“Markets welcomed Bernanke’s Congressional testimony, in which he put himself firmly on the dovish side. ... His comments reduced concerns over early withdrawal of monetary stimulus in the U.S. and provided hope that easy financing available for emerging market assets will remain in place,” said Dariusz.Kowalczyk, strategist at Credit Agricole.
Most regional stocks had suffered on Tuesday after Italy’s general election ended in stalemate, triggering concerns about another flare-up of euro-zone debt woes.
“As the political problems in Europe are likely to be prolonged, the U.S. sequester discussions are set to heat up and markets have had a very good run, volatility may persist for several weeks,” said Matthew Sherwood, Perpetual Investment’s investment market research head.
Japanese stocks continued to struggle as the dollar /zigman2/quotes/210561789/realtime/sampled USDJPY -0.1092% reached 91.72 yen, down from ¥91.88 in late North American trading on Tuesday, and well off a level of more than ¥94 reached intraday on Monday. Read: Dollar gains after upbeat data, Bernanke.
Bernanke, Senate tussle on inflation
Simon Constable and Jon Hilsenrath wrap up Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's Senate testimony.
Exporters came under selling pressure in Tokyo. Panasonic Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201785256/delayed JP:6752 +2.85% declined 1.8%, while in the auto sector, Nissan Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/208298710/delayed JP:7201 +2.45% /zigman2/quotes/207656007/delayed NSANY 0.00% lost 1.5% and Honda Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/200490352/delayed JP:7267 +1.42% /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC -0.95% fell 2.5%.
The rest of the region advanced, however, with AIA Group Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203565558/delayed HK:1299 -4.04% /zigman2/quotes/205179901/delayed AAGIY -3.98% jumping 4.1% in Hong Kong after the insurer posted solid results for 2012. Read: AIA's 2012 profit rises 89%, beats estimates.
China Construction Bank Corp. /zigman2/quotes/208974133/delayed HK:939 +0.17% /zigman2/quotes/207732534/delayed CICHY +0.03% rose 0.2% among banks, while in the property sector, Hang Lung Properties Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/200230831/delayed HK:101 0.00% /zigman2/quotes/205863241/delayed HLPPY +0.28% climbed 0.5% and New World Development Co. /zigman2/quotes/202357413/delayed HK:17 -0.47% /zigman2/quotes/207378574/delayed NDVLY +2.70% added 3.8% to retrace some recent losses.
Hong Kong’s financial secretary John Tsang said Wednesday that the city’s gross domestic product was expected to grow by between 1.5% and 3.5% in 2013 as the global economy gathers strength, Dow Jones Newswires reported. GDP grew 1.4% in 2012, just exceeding government forecasts for 1.2% growth.
In stock action on the mainland, Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204629388/delayed CN:601288 +0.34% /zigman2/quotes/207749118/delayed ACGBY +0.20% rose 2.1% and Poly Real Estate Group Co. /zigman2/quotes/201864015/delayed CN:600048 +0.32% higher by 3.9% in Shanghai.
Aiding the South Korean stock market, Kia Motors Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206019389/delayed KR:000270 +3.67% /zigman2/quotes/205439169/delayed KIMTF % advanced 1.7% and Hyundai Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/206684590/delayed KR:005380 +1.61% /zigman2/quotes/204364212/delayed HYMTF -1.90% added 0.7%.
Rival James Hardie Industries PLC /zigman2/quotes/201411224/delayed AU:JHX +2.41% /zigman2/quotes/200042563/composite JHX +0.62% reversed early losses to trade up 1.6%. The firm reported a 7% drop in nine-month net profit to $115 million.
Utility AGL Energy Ltd. jumped 4.5% after reporting that its first-half net profit more than tripled to $373 million.