Asia stocks higher on China recovery optimism

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets rose Monday on optimism that China's economic recovery is firmly taking root.

Many analysts expect China's fourth quarter and 2012 growth figures due Friday to show the world's No. 2 economy continuing to bounce back from its worst slump since the 2008 financial crisis.

Sentiment improved last week after Japan announced a $224 billion stimulus package to boost its recession- and deflation-mired economy. A strong economic recovery has eluded Japan for more than 20 years since the bursting of its financial bubble in the early 1990s.

China, meanwhile, reported improving exports and imports last week, a sign of higher demand both inside and outside the country. More signs of improvement are expected when China releases a slew of data on Friday, including factory output, investment and retail sales.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.7 percent to 23,421.25. South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent to 2,002.22 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.2 percent to 4,718.90.

Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index gained 2.1 percent to 2,289.23 while the Shenzhen Composite Index for China's second, smaller stock market jumped 2.5 percent to 908.20.

Japan's financial markets were closed for a public holiday.

Dariusz Kowalczyk of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said China's growth likely picked up in the fourth quarter of 2012 to 7.9 percent from 7.4 percent in the three months ended in September. He expects first quarter growth in 2013 to hit 8.5 percent. He said such figures should put to rest worries that China's economy might be in for a hard landing.

"Risks have diminished both externally and domestically, and if they rebound, China has sufficient resources to manage them, so we are upbeat that a relapse will not occur," he said in an email.

Still, a bobble in trade could cause a reversal, while inflation pressure is rising because of poor winter harvests, which would make it harder for Beijing to embark on new stimulus measures without pushing prices up more.

Analysts at Societe Generale have not ruled out a hard landing, which they define as real GDP growth falling below 6 percent, partly because of China's vulnerability to trade shocks.

Among individual stocks, South Korea's SK Telecom soared 5.8 percent while Hyundai Heavy Industries fell 2.3 percent. In Shanghai, gold retailer Lao Feng Xiang Co. Ltd. jumped 6 percent. China AVIC Avionics Equipment soared 8.5 percent.

In the U.S., stock indexes were mixed Friday as company earnings reports started to come in. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dipped slightly below its highest close in five years, which it reached the day before.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent to 13,488.43. The S&P 500 fell marginally to 1,472.05. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.1 percent to 3,125.63.

Benchmark oil for February delivery was up 59 cents to $94.15 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped 26 cents to finish at $93.56 a barrel in New York on Friday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3391 from $1.3338 late Friday in New York. The dollar rose to 89.54 yen from 89.20 yen.

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