Asian stocks climbed, with the regional benchmark index headed for its highest close in 17 months, as China’s export data topped estimates and Japanese carmakers rallied on a weaker yen.
China Cosco Holdings Co., China’s biggest shipping company, jumped 7.3 percent in Hong Kong. Mazda Motor Corp. led automakers higher, climbing 10 percent in Tokyo as Bank of America Corp. recommended buying the shares. Korea Electric Power Corp., which supplies all of South Korea’s electricity, rose 3.6 percent after raising tariffs.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rallied 0.7 percent to 132.06 as of 6:26 p.m. Tokyo time, on track for its highest close since August 2011. The benchmark gauge capped seven straight weeks of gains last week as the U.S. Congress approved a budget deal and Japanese shares rallied on expectations the nation’s new government would call for more stimulus.
“China’s export data is boosting investor sentiment,” said Grace Tam, Hong Kong-based global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management Ltd., which oversees about $1.3 trillion globally. “Imports also improved, showing that domestic demand is picking up.”
The Nikkei 225 Stock Average increased 0.7 percent, advancing for a second day. The gauge has risen 23 percent from Nov. 14 when Japanese elections were announced, driving the measure into a bull market.
South Korea’s Kospi Index rose 0.8 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index increased 0.6 percent, while China’s Shanghai Composite Index added 0.4 percent.
Stocks extended gains after China’s exports rose 14.1 percent in December from a year earlier, while imports increased 6 percent, the customs office said today. The pickup in overseas shipments beat the 5 percent median estimate of 40 analysts in a Bloomberg News survey and a 2.9 percent increase the previous month.
The nation’s shipping companies and raw-material producers rallied. China Cosco jumped 7.3 percent to HK$4.73 in Hong Kong. China Shipping Container Lines Co., the country’s No. 2 carrier of sea-cargo boxes, advanced 3.5 percent to HK$2.64. Aluminum Corp. of China Ltd., the nation’s biggest supplier of the light metal, climbed 6.5 percent to HK$4.07.
Chinese solar companies extended gains after the government said it aims to more than double solar capacity. China Solar Energy Holdings Ltd. surged 28 percent 4.6 Hong Kong cents. GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., a maker of wafers used in solar panels, gained 2 percent to HK$2.08.
Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 0.1 percent today. The benchmark gauge advanced 0.3 percent yesterday after Alcoa Inc. reported better-than-estimated sales.
Japanese exporters climbed as the yen neared a 2 1/2-year low after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa at a meeting yesterday to double the nation’s inflation target to 2 percent. A weaker currency boosts the value of overseas earnings when repatriated.
“The government’s economic policy can prompt a sustained improvement in investor sentiment by weakening the yen before the recovery in the U.S. economy becomes definite,” said Naoki Kamiyama, equity strategist at Bank of America Corp. in Tokyo. “It’s a way to engineer an economic recovery.”
Honda Motor Co., which generates about 80 percent of its revenue overseas, climbed 2.5 percent to 3,330 yen. Sony Corp., Japan’s biggest exporter of consumer electronics, gained 3.4 percent to 968 yen.
Mazda, which generates more than 70 percent of its sales outside of Japan, jumped 10 percent to 195 yen. BofA raised its recommendation for the carmaker to buy from neutral and raised its price estimate for the shares by 73 percent to 225 yen.
Malaysian automaker DRB-Hicom Bhd. rose 1.9 percent to 2.68 ringgit in Kuala Lumpur. Billionaire Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, the company’s largest shareholder, may make an offer to take DRB private at 3.50 ringgit to 4 ringgit per share, the Business Times reported, citing unidentified people it said were working on the plan.
“We are unaware, caught by surprise, and there hasn’t been any proposal that came to DRB,” Group Managing Director Mohd Khamil Jamil told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. “You put it rightly that it’s a rumor.”
Korea Electric, the state-controlled utility also known as Kepco, climbed 3.6 percent to 32,800 won in Seoul. South Korea will raise electricity prices by an average 4 percent starting next week, the second increase in five months, the Knowledge Economy Ministry said yesterday.
EVA Airways Corp. gained 3.7 percent to NT$18.35 after Taiwan’s second-largest carrier said December unconsolidated sales increased 8.7 percent from a year earlier to NT$9.3 billion ($321 million).
In Australia, Alumina Ltd., a supplier of the material used to make aluminum, rose 2.9 percent to A$1.055 for a fourth day of gains. Credit Suisse Group AG upgraded its rating to outperform from neutral with a new price estimate of A$1.25 per share.