Asia stocks gain on China economic reform prospects, another Wall Street high

MUMBAI, India – Asian stocks mostly rose Friday, buoyed by a third all-time high on a key Wall Street index this week and signs that China will follow up on pledges to further open the world’s No. 2 economy,

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average added 0.4 per cent to 15,201.57 and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.65 point to 1,976.17. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.2 per cent to 5,454.80 and Southeast Asia markets were mostly higher.

Investors have been encouraged by this week’s meeting of China’s top legislative body which pledged to advance Communist Party plans issued in November for promoting market forces and domestic consumption in Asia’s economic engine.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index was up 0.33 point at 2,059.91 and Taiwan’s benchmark added 0.3 per cent to 8,738.96. But Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.2 per cent to 22,661.25.

India’s Sensex index was up 0.7 per cent to 21,662.22 as investors cheered the announcement of elections beginning next month.

The gains in Asian markets followed a mostly positive day on Wall Street after a report showed the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in three months.

The gains were enough to propel the Standard & Poor’s 500 to its third all-time high this week, rising 0.2 per cent to 1,877.03. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 61.71 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 16,421.89. The Nasdaq composite fell 5.85 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4,352.13.

The focus in the U.S. is now on Friday’s release of the February employment report. The payrolls data often set the market mood for a week or two.

European markets stabilized Thursday as tensions in Ukraine eased while the euro surged after traders reined in expectations of further easing measures from the European Central Bank.

Germany’s DAX closed flat at 9,542.87 while the CAC-40 in France rose 0.6 per cent to 4,417.04. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.2 per cent to 6,788.49 after the Bank of England kept its main interest rate unchanged at 0.5 per cent, five years on from its decision to cut to the historic low rate.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 27 cents to $101.83 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 11 cents to $101.56 on Thursday.

In currencies, the dollar weakened to 102.95 Japanese yen from 103.07 yen late Thursday. The euro dropped to $1.3859 from $1.3866.