By V. Phani Kumar, Rosalind Mathieson and Kate O'Keeffe
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- Most Asian markets advanced Wednesday after a roller-coaster ride, with Japanese shares jumping as the yen's recent weakness and overnight gains on Wall Street lifted exporters and financial shares on the first day of a new financial year.
Chip makers stood out in Taipei and Tokyo after Elpida Memory said it was selected to partner Taiwan Memory, a semiconductor company being formed by the government to rescue domestic memory chip makers.
But after March yielded strong gains for most Asian indexes, analysts said the rally was hard to sustain ahead of key events this month. The coming events include the G20 meeting in London and the start of the U.S. corporate earnings season later in the month.
"I think in the second quarter, markets may see a correction in April and May. Many investors are expecting good news from the G20 meeting, but I don't think so ... the disappointment may pull down the market," said Patrick Shum, strategist at Karl Thomson Securities. U.S. corporate earnings were also expected to be bad, he added.
Ignoring weaker-than-expected results from the Bank of Japan's quarterly tankan business sentiment survey, the Nikkei 225 Average jumped 3% to 8351.91, after flirting with losses earlier in the day. The survey showed sentiment among big manufacturers slumped to the lowest level on record.
Elsewhere, China's Shanghai Composite gained 1.5%, South Korea's Kospi added 2.3%, Taiwan's Taiex rose 2% and India's Sensex was up 0.4% in afternoon trading. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.1%, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.4%, after moving in either direction.
Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.96% futures were quoted 97 points lower in screen trade, with continued concerns about the fate of large automakers General Motors /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -4.34% and Chrysler.
"Marking time is a fair description of what is happening in the wider market. It remains difficult to see what is going to provide a catalyst for any significant and prolonged moves in either direction," said IG Index Chief Market Strategist David Jones. "Traders may be playing a waiting game ahead of the release of the latest set of U.S. unemployment numbers this Friday."
Japan's Elpida Memory climbed 14.7% after being picked by Taiwan Memory as a partner to provide technology. Taiwan Memory is also holding talks with Micron Technology /zigman2/quotes/205710729/composite MU -3.09% for cooperation. In Taipei, Nanya Technology /zigman2/quotes/201233424/composite NNYAF 0.00% rose 7%, ProMOS Technologies and Powerchip Semiconductor climbed 6.8% and Inotera Memories added 6.7%.
Still, Taiwan Ratings analyst Raymond Hsu warned uncertainties remained as to how an alliance might shape up because any partnership including both Elpida, Micron -- an ideal scenario -- would be highly complex. "From here to a final game plan, I would expect the talks to drag on for a while," Mr. Hsu said.
Financials and exporters also advanced in Tokyo, with Honda Motor /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC -2.07% /zigman2/quotes/200490352/delayed JP:7267 -0.12% rising 6.7% and Sony /zigman2/quotes/201361720/delayed JP:6758 +5.84% jumping 6.4%. Nomura Holdings /zigman2/quotes/207520099/delayed JP:8306 -0.93% /zigman2/quotes/207276383/composite NMR -3.06% gained 3.2% and Mitsubishi UFJ /zigman2/quotes/207520099/delayed JP:8306 -0.93% advanced 4%.
Car makers rose in South Korea with Hyundai Motor /zigman2/quotes/204364212/composite HYMTF +2.68% up 4.7% and Kia Motors /zigman2/quotes/205439169/composite KIMTF +8.21% 4.9% higher on hopes for potential expansion of market share in the U.S. during a period of restructuring for U.S. car makers.
China Unicom /zigman2/quotes/205476740/composite CHU +10.24% /zigman2/quotes/205091392/delayed HK:762 +0.25% shares tumbled 8.1% in Hong Kong a day after it reported 2008 earnings. The company posted a lower-than-expected 58% increase in net profit, which was lifted mainly by a gain from the sale of its multiple-access business to China Telecom Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206668971/delayed HK:728 -0.70% last year.
OZ Minerals /zigman2/quotes/208047353/delayed AU:OZL +3.95% /zigman2/quotes/201120691/composite OZMLF -3.16% ended down 3.6%, after falling nearly 20% earlier in the day, in spite of news it had struck a $1.2 billion deal to sell a suite of assets to Minmetals and that its lenders had agreed to extend refinancing of its debt to April 30. The Australian Government last week blocked Minmetals' 2.6 billion Australian dollar ($1.8 billion) takeover offer for the miner on the grounds its Prominent Hill mine was in a military zone in South Australia state.
Fortescue Metals /zigman2/quotes/202351558/delayed AU:FMG +4.65% /zigman2/quotes/204116626/composite FSUMF +0.13% gained 1.2% after the government gave the green light to Hunan Valin Iron & Steel's A$1.2 billion investment in the iron ore miner.
Sentiment in New Zealand was crimped by Fletcher Building's /zigman2/quotes/200215142/delayed NZ:FBU -0.14% /zigman2/quotes/206921557/composite FRCEF -12.16% plan to raise 505 million New Zealand dollars (US$287.6 million) in capital, mainly through a placement. Fletcher was on a trading halt, but Fisher & Paykel Appliances , which is yet to announce details of its planned capital raising, dropped 4.1%.
Malaysian shares recently rose 1.1%, Singapore's Straits Times Index gained 0.3%, Philippine stocks dropped 1%, Thailand's SET Index slipped 0.2% and Indonesian shares were up 1.6%.
In currency trade the U.S. dollar was at 98.85 yen from 98.88 yen late in New York. The euro was at 130.43 yen, from 131.44 yen in New York.
Spot gold gained 40 cents from New York levels, to $918.40 a troy ounce.
May Nymex crude-oil futures were down $1.31 to $48.35 a barrel on Globex, with weekly U.S. oil inventory data later Wednesday expected to show a large build in oil stocks. "We have ample supply and demand is weak," said Tony Rosado, a broker with GA Global Markets.