Asia Stocks Rise, Heading for Biggest Three-Week Gain Since 2009

  • Japanese equities climb on Thursday as banks, shippers jump
  • BHP Billiton shares extend this week's rebound to 11%

Asian stocks rose for a third day, with the regional index on course for its biggest three week advance since 2009, as Japanese banks surged and materials shares climbed.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index gained 1.3 percent to 125.13 as of 5:12 p.m. in Tokyo, trading at the highest levels since January and extending its three-week advance to more than 10 percent. Japan’s Topix index added 1.4 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index closed 0.4 percent higher Wednesday, reversing a 0.5 percent decline. A private report on U.S. payrolls showed companies added more workers than economists projected last month. Traders will be watching U.S. monthly employment data Friday for clues as to the pace of interest rate hikes.

“We’re starting to see that the U.S. economy is stronger than we thought, and uncertainties are clearing away,” said Masahiro Ichikawa, a senior strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management Co. “That led to U.S. share gains and that’s following through into Japan.”

The payrolls report from ADP Research Institute followed data Tuesday that signaled manufacturing in the world’s biggest economy was steadying. Citigroup Inc.’s U.S. Economic Surprise Index, which measures whether data beats or misses estimates, has risen to its highest level since November. Futures on the S&P 500 slipped 0.2 percent after the benchmark measure closed at the highest level in two months.

Stock Rebound

Equity investors have been whipsawed this year. The MSCI Asia Pacific index slumped 14 percent through Feb. 12 as a shock devaluation of the yuan and tumbling commodity prices hit investor sentiment. The gauge has since rebounded 11 percent.

Japan’s Topix index climbed 14 percent from its low reached Feb. 12. Measures of banks and shippers each rose more than 6 percent on Thursday, while energy shares jumped after oil closed at the highest level in almost two months.

The yen weakened to 113.97 per dollar after gaining 0.5 percent on Wednesday. Japan’s megabanks are calling time on the yen’s four years of depreciation, a blow to Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda’s chances of reviving inflation and growth. Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd., Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and Mizuho Bank Ltd. all see the yen ending the year stronger than where it started. And all three have revised up their 2016 forecasts as the yen gained 6.7 percent in the first two months of the year.

Regional Gauges

South Korea’s Kospi index advanced 0.6 percent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index added 1.2 percent, climbing for a fourth day. BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, climbed 3.1 percent, extending this week’s rebound to 11 percent. New Zealand’s S&P/ASX 200 Index rose 1.1 percent, to the highest level since the index’s inception in 2001.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index slipped 0.3 percent and the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index of mainland firms listed in the city fell 0.2 percent.

The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.4 percent amid speculation China will announce measures to boost growth. In addition to Friday’s jobs report in the U.S., investors will be watching the start of China’s National People’s Congress, where delegates will sign off on a new five-year economic plan, at the weekend.

Oil held gains near the highest close in eight weeks as U.S. crude output declined amid easing price volatility.

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