Japanese markets rise as growth data boosts stimulus hopes

HONG KONG - Japanese stocks rocketed Monday, leading most Asian markets higher after dismal growth data raised hopes for more stimulus for Asia's second biggest economy, weakening the yen.

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Chinese shares dropped on their first day of trading after a weeklong holiday that coincided with a sharp sell-off in global markets.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index soared 6.3 per cent to 15,892.07, its second-biggest one-day gain in three years. South Korea's Kospi climbed 1.3 per cent to 1,857.82 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 2.7 per cent to 18,819.59. The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China lost 1.6 per cent to 2,720.03 after reopening following the Lunar New Year holiday. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.4 per cent to 4,831.80. Taiwan's benchmark was down slightly while markets in Southeast Asia gained.

JAPAN GROWTH: The latest data show the economy shrank 1.4 per cent on an annualized basis last quarter because of weak consumer demand and slower exports. It's a setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic revival program, which aims to stoke inflation through massive monetary easing. However, the latest report also gives the government more reason to open the stimulus taps wider to restore growth, economists said.

QUOTEWORTHY: "Together with the recent slump in the Nikkei and the appreciation of the yen, the case for additional easing remains compelling," said Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics. He predicts the Bank of Japan will step up bond purchases and push interest rates that are already in negative territory even lower.

CHINA BANK CHIEF: Also helping shore up investor sentiment around the region were comments from China's central bank chief in which he played down the likelihood of a one-off devaluation of the yuan. People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan's signalled in a Caixin magazine interview published over the weekend that there was no basis for further depreciation of China's currency, providing relief for the country's exporting neighbours worried that a weakening yuan would hurt their competitiveness.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended last week higher, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising 2 per cent to close Friday at 15,973.84. The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 2 per cent to 1,864.78 and the Nasdaq composite added 1.7 per cent to 4,337.51.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil futures lost 26 cents to $29.18 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract climbed $3.23, or 12.3 per cent, on Friday to settle at $29.44 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell 19 cents to $33.18 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 113.94 yen from 113.22 yen on Friday. The euro weakened to $1.1224 from $1.1257.



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