Hang Seng leads gains as Asian shares advance, tracking US rally

Over in Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 tacked on 0.11 percent.

The Hang Seng Index rallied 1.36 percent, with the index on track for its fifth straight day of gains. All sectors on the index traded higher, with gains led by the financials and technology sectors. Tech giant Tencent rose 1.53 percent and AAC Technologies rose 3.51 percent.

Mainland markets, meanwhile, edged lower, bucking the overall positive trend, with the Shanghai composite was off by 0.08 percent and the Shenzhen composite shed 0.65 percent.

Markets in Malaysia remained closed on Friday for a special holiday following the landmark general election win by Mahathir Mohamad’s opposition alliance. Mahathir, who was prime minister of Malaysia between 1981 and 2003, was sworn in as the prime minister late on Thursday.

The iShares MSCI Malaysia ETF, which had initially dropped more than 6 percent in reaction to the surprise election outcome, regained 1.76 percent on Thursday. A knee-jerk reaction that will likely be “more negative than positive” is expected when markets reopen next week “as investors had been pricing in continuity of previous government policy,” Prakash Sakpal, Asia economist at ING, said in a note.

MSCI’s broad index of shares in Asia Pacific, excluding Japan, was up 0.93 percent.

Overall gains in the region came on the back of Wall Street’s sharp gains in the last session, which also saw the Dow close positive for 2018. The overnight advance stateside followed the release of weaker-than-expected U.S. inflation data in the last session.

The consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in April, compared to the 0.3 percent rise forecast in a Reuters poll. The lighter-than-forecast number eased concerns about the Federal Reserve tightening monetary policy at a faster rate than the market is expecting.

Geopolitics remained a focus in commodities markets, with oil prices steady during Asia morning trade. On Thursday, U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures were off by 0.08 percent at $71.30 per barrel and Brent crude futures edged down by 0.17 percent to trade at $77.34.

Oil had settled slightly higher in the last session amid investor concerns over the impact of renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran oil exports. President Donald Trump had announced the U.S. would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this week.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said Brent crude prices could rise as high as $100 per barrel on the back of factors including geopolitics.

Also of note, Trump on Thursday said his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to take place in Singapore on June 12. The meeting comes on the back of easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, with Kim having met South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in April.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies, was softer following the release of U.S. inflation data on Thursday. The index trod water to trade at 92.693 at 12:18 p.m. HK/SIN after touching as high as 93.42 earlier this week. Against the yen, the dollar traded at 109.46.

In corporate news, Australia’s AMP was down 5.3 percent, underperforming other Australian bank shares. Its stock was downgraded to neutral from outperform by Macquarie Equities, Reuters said.

— CNBC’s Fred Imbert contributed to this report.

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