Asian stocks mixed after China cuts growth target

BEIJING - Most Asian stock markets rose Monday after Beijing cut its growth target for its cooling economy and promised more market-opening reforms, while Tokyo fell.

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KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Composite Index advanced 0.4 per cent to 2,886.31 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.1 per cent to 20,189.30. Sydney's S&P ASX 200 gained 1 per cent to 5,142.80 and Seoul's Kospi added 0.1 per cent to 1,958.30. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 shed 0.6 per cent to 16,912.75. Taiwan, New Zealand and Bangkok gained while Singapore and Jakarta retreated.

CHINESE GROWTH CUT: Premier Li Keqiang lowered Beijing's official growth target to 6.5 to 7 per cent from last year's "about 7 per cent" and promised more market-opening reforms. The ruling Communist Party is trying to promote more self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption, reducing reliance on trade and investment. The steady decline in China's economic growth over the past five years has sent shockwaves through its trading partners, dampening demand for industrial components and raw materials. In an address Saturday to the country's legislature, Li promised to open oil, power, telecoms and other state-dominated industries to private competitors, though he failed to say whether foreign companies would be allowed in. To stimulate slowing growth, Li said the government will boost deficit spending.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "Instead of a specific target, setting a growth range reflects the (Chinese) government's desire for policymaking flexibility as they push for longer-term economic reforms," DBS Bank economists said in a report. They noted Li also abandoned Beijing's target for trade growth after exports fell far short of last year's official goal. "Amid a weak global outlook, China may also be wary of setting an ambitious trade forecast on concerns it might raise expectations that Beijing would boost exports via yuan depreciation."

WALL STREET: Stocks ended up for the week after data on unexpectedly strong hiring, construction spending and manufacturing suggested the U.S. economy is doing fairly well. Mining companies made the biggest gains as metals prices climbed. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.4 per cent and the Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 0.3 per cent. The Nasdaq composite index edged up 0.2 per cent.

U.S. JOBS: The Labor Department reported employers added 242,000 jobs in February, more than previously estimated. Its data showed construction, retail and health care companies are still hiring more workers. Energy companies also rose with the recovering price of oil. More people also looked for work.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gained 67 cents to $36.59 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $1.35 on Friday to close at $35.92. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 72 cents to $39.44 per barrel. On Friday, it gained $1.65 to $38.72.

CURRENCY: The dollar declined to 113.68 yen from Friday's 113.71 yen. The euro edged down to $1.0993 from $1.1000.


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