Most Asian Stocks Rise on ECB Rate Cut; Macquarie Surges

Most Asian stocks climbed after the European Central Bank cut interest rates to a record low and U.S. jobless claims fell to the lowest in five years.

Esprit Holdings Ltd., a Hong Kong-based clothier that counts Europe as its biggest market, climbed 2.4 percent. Macquarie Group Ltd. surged 11 percent, its biggest gain in four years, as profit at the Australia’s largest investment bank topped estimates. Fletcher Building Ltd., a manufacturer of construction products, sank 6.5 percent in Wellington as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. cut its outlook for building-material shares.

The MSCI Asia Pacific excluding Japan Index was little changed at 480.67 as of 6:18 p.m. in Hong Kong, with four stocks advancing for every three that fell. Six of the 10 industry groups in the regional gauge rose. Japan was closed today for a holiday.

“Unlike at this point in the last three years, you have central banks in Europe, the U.S. and Japan all easing,” said Shane Oliver, Sydney-based head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors Ltd., which has $126 billion under management. “The market is a lot less worried about Europe. Profits are continuing to rise and we remain overweight stocks on a positive 12-month view. Housing indicators in the U.S. remain firm and the Fed is on standby. Valuations are still OK.”

Relative Value

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index, the benchmark regional equities gauge that includes Japan, climbed 8.5 percent this year through yesterday amid optimism the Bank of Japan will deploy more measures to beat deflation and that policy makers in the U.S. and China remain on standby to buoy growth.

That left the gauge yesterday trading at 14 times average estimated earnings compared with 14.5 for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and 12.9 times for the Stoxx Europe 600 Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.5 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index and Taiwan’s Taiex Index both added 0.1 percent.

South Korea’s Kospi index advanced 0.4 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index was little changed. New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index lost 0.7 percent. Singapore’s Straits Times Index slipped 1 percent.

The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index dropped 1.1 percent, heading for the biggest decline in three months, before the national elections on May 5. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 13-party Barisan Nasional coalition faces a resurgent opposition alliance led by former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Najib said last month a win by a fractious opposition could bring “catastrophic ruin.”

S&P Futures

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index were little changed today. The measure rose 0.9 percent yesterday after the European Central Bank cut its main refinancing rate to 0.5 percent from 0.75 percent and Labor Department data showed the number of Americans filing claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly fell to the lowest level in more than five years.

Esprit rose 2.4 percent to HK$10.92. Cosco Pacific Ltd., which operates a port in Greece, added 0.8 percent to HK$10.20. Techtronic Industries Co., the maker of Ryobi power tools that gets about 72 percent of sales from North America, advanced 3.3 percent to HK$18.94. James Hardie Industries SE, a building materials supplier that counts the U.S. as its biggest market, added 1.7 percent to A$10.05 in Sydney.

New World Development Co., the Hong Kong builder controlled by billionaire Cheng Yu-tung, gained 3.3 percent to HK$13.92 after receiving permission from the city’s stock exchange to proceed with the listing of its local hotels.

Australian Banks

Macquarie jumped 11 percent to A$43.11 in Sydney, its biggest gain since June 2009, after posting a 17 percent increase in full-year profit.

Declines in other Australian financial shares limited gains on the MSCI Asia Pacific excluding Japan Index. Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the country’s largest bank, declined 2 percent to A$71.06, a third day of losses. Westpac Banking Corp., the second-biggest, slid 1 percent to A$33.55 even after saying it will pay a special dividend for the first time since 1988.

“The sector succumbed to a bout of profit taking after what has been a standout week,” said Tim Waterer, a Sydney-based trader at CMC Markets Ltd. The S&P/ASX 200 Banks Index climbed to a record earlier this week, posting a 2.8 percent weekly advance.

Housing Slowdown

Fletcher Building sank 6.5 percent to NZ$8.03 in Wellington, the biggest drop in 18 months, as Goldman Sachs analysts said the Australian housing-market recovery is slower than expected. The New Zealand-based company gets 47 percent of its sales in Australia.

Genting Singapore Plc, one of two companies licensed to run casinos in the city state, sank 7.8 percent to S$1.485 after reporting a 44 percent slump in first-quarter earnings.

A report today is projected to show the U.S. unemployment rate remained at 7.6 percent in April, while payrolls rose by 140,000 compared with an increase of 88,000 the prior month, according to the median estimate of economists in a Bloomberg survey.

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