Asia Stocks Head for Highest Close in Nearly Five Years

Asian stocks rose the first time in three days, with a regional gauge set for the highest close since June 2008, after U.S. consumer sentiment beat estimates and Tokyo Electric Power Co. led Japanese utilities higher.

Li & Fung Ltd., a supplier of toys and clothing that gets 63 percent of its sales in the U.S., gained 2 percent in Hong Kong. Osaka Gas Co. advanced to the highest in more than five years after the U.S. conditionally approved a Texas liquefied natural gas project partially owned by the energy supplier. Tokyo Electric Power soared 16 percent after the Yomiuri newspaper said it will apply to restart reactors.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index gained 1.2 percent to 144.25 as of 8:13 p.m. in Tokyo. The measure surged 12 percent this year, led by Japanese shares, as U.S. data signaled improvement in the world’s No. 1 economy and the Bank of Japan took steps to counter deflation.

“The numbers continue to confirm a recovery,” Mark Matthews, head of Asia research at Bank Julius Baer & Co., said in a Bloomberg TV interview in Hong Kong. His firm has $282 billion under management. This year’s advance in equities “will continue. It’s a steady improvement in the data and the next step is to see stronger evidence of a consumer recovery. Stocks are not too expensive.”

The regional benchmark gauge was trading at 14.5 times estimated earnings on May 17, compared with 15.1 for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and 13.5 for the Stoxx Europe 600 Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Hong Kong

Japan’s Topix Index advanced 1.3 percent to 1,269.51, the highest close since August 2008, with volume 12 percent higher than the 30-day average. The gauge climbed 48 percent this year, the best gain among major equity indexes. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 0.6 percent, while New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index was little changed.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index rose 1.8 percent as Tencent Holdings Ltd., China’s largest Internet company, jumped 6.3 percent. The Shanghai Composite Index added 0.8 percent, while Taiwan’s Taiex Index added 0.1 percent. Singapore’s Straits Times Index rose 0.1 percent, and South Korea’s Kospi Index slid 0.2 percent.

Futures on the S&P 500 fell less than 0.1 percent. The measure closed at a record on May 17 as an index of U.S. leading indicators climbed in April and consumer confidence rose to the highest level in almost six years.

Exporters Climb

Asian exporters to the U.S. gained. Li & Fung rose 2 percent to HK$11.34. Sony Corp., a Japanese consumer-electronics maker that gets 16 percent of sales in the U.S., advanced 5.7 percent to 2,162 yen. Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest auto manufacturer, climbed 1.9 percent to 6,590 yen.

Osaka Gas jumped 4.2 percent to 477 yen, the highest since December 2007, after the U.S. Energy Department conditionally approved exports from the Freeport LNG project to countries that don’t have free-trade agreements with the U.S. The development, partly owned by ConocoPhillips, Dow Chemical Co. and Osaka Gas, must still win approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Nippon Yusen KK, the largest publicly traded operator of LNG ships, surged 11 percent to 295 yen, its biggest gain since October 2008. Rates for transporting the fuel jumped 28 percent last week. The shipper also agreed to take a one-third stake in an LNG export facility with trading companies Mitsui & Co. and Mitsubishi Corp.

Nuclear Restarts

Mitsui advanced 4 percent to 1,472 yen, while Mitsubishi gained 1.7 percent to 1,925 yen.

Tokyo Electric soared after a Yomiuri report yesterday that the power producer will request to restart nuclear facilities. The company will do so after new regulations on nuclear power operation take effect in July, the Yomiuri said without citing anyone. The company said it is assessing whether its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant meets safety rules, according to a statement to the Tokyo Stock Exchange today.

Tepco, as the utility is known, surged 16 percent to 726 yen, extending its advance since the start of December to 458 percent. Chubu Electric Power Co. jumped 7.8 percent to 1,459 yen.

Tencent gained 6.3 percent to HK$309.40, a record closing high, with trading volume more than twice as high as the three-month average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Shares of China’s largest Internet company extended gains after beating estimates for first-quarter profit on May 16.

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