Chinese, Australian benchmarks lead Asian stock market gains

HONG KONG (AP) — Most major Asian stock indexes were higher Thursday as Chinese shares rebounded on stimulus hopes a day after gloomy first-quarter economic numbers and Australian shares rose on a surprise drop in the jobless rate.

KEEPING SCORE: Most Asian indexes were subdued, with Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index losing 0.5 percent to 19,773.56 while South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.5 percent to 2,130.09. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.2 percent to 27,656.12. The region’s big gains came from the Shanghai composite index, which added 1.4 percent to 4,142.70 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200, which climbed 0.6 percent to 5,943.60.

AUSTRALIAN JOBS: Investors welcomed news that the country’s unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in March from 6.3 percent the month before. The result surprised economists, who had expected the number to hold steady, though it also clouded the outlook on whether Australia’s central bank would cut interest rates again in May.

CHINA BOUNCE: A day after China posted the worst quarterly growth in six years, the country’s stock markets had largely shrugged off the news. The 7 percent expansion in the January-March period was the weakest since the global financial crisis. Beijing has cut interest rates twice and rolled out targeted stimulus measures following signs that the downturn has been sharper than expected and investors are likely expecting more such boosting measures to come.

MARKET VIEW: “Having seen two cuts to benchmark and market interest rates already in the past six months, as well as tweaks to the reserve requirement ratios and changes to policy around investment property, yesterday’s numbers would normally suggest further stimulus as the tweaks have not been enough to stop the decline,” Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, wrote in a commentary.

WALL STREET: U.S. benchmarks closed modestly higher on rising corporate profits and a jump in oil prices. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.5 percent to close at 2,106.63 and the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.4 percent to 18,112.61. The Nasdaq composite added 0.7 percent to 5,011.02.

ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude eased oil fell 35 cents to $56.04 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $3.10 to settle at $56.39, hitting its highest price this year, on Wednesday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 56 cents to $62.76 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 119.14 yen from 119.15 in late trading Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.0695 from $1.0677.

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