Asia stocks rally 5th day on big China rate cut

Business Materials 27 November 2008 10:50 (UTC +04:00)

Asia stocks rose for a fifth day on Thursday, helped by hopes that policymakers' efforts will ultimately prevail after China's big rate cut, though U.S. data provided an ominous reminder of the global slowdown, reported Reuters.

While investors cheered China's largest rate reduction since the Asian financial crisis, views on India, emerging Asia's other titan, darkened after militants killed at least 101 people and held foreigners hostage in the commercial capital Mumbai.

India's financial markets were shut for the day following the attacks.

Oil prices shrugged off the rise in Asian equities and fell more than $1 toward $53 a barrel as investors shifted their focus back to distressed demand, after U.S. government data showed a sharp buildup in crude stocks.

Two different camps of investors were emerging as the end of a wild year for markets approaches. One group believes equity prices have already discounted a global recession and now there is value to be found in some beaten down sectors, like financials and consumer goods companies.

The other pack thinks the boost from trillions of dollars of government stimulus and aggressive central bank moves -- like China's surprising 1.08 percentage point cut in interest rates -- will help down the line but the near-term drag from shrinking economies in Europe, Japan and the United States is inescapable.

"China's rate cuts only help to some extent for the Asian risk environment because the key ingredient that's driving the gloomy outlook is actual demand, especially from advanced economies," said Suan Teck Kin, an economist with United Overseas Bank in Singapore.

"These would help spur some investment and spending activities and support the fiscal initiatives but the main driver would still be from actual spending."

Stocks in the Asia-Pacific region outside of Japan were up 2.7 percent, set for a fifth straight day of gains, according to an MSCI index. Still, the index is on track for a seventh month of declines, down about 9 percent in November.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 3.6 percent, while Shanghai's composite index rose 4 percent.

Chinese bank stocks got a boost from a drop in reserve requirements, with shares of the country's biggest bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd, up 4.3 percent in Hong Kong.

In Japan, the Nikkei share average climbed 2 percent, supported by a rally in the technology sector, which globally has been hit hard because of its dependence of business and consumer spending.

U.S. markets are closed on Thursday for a public holiday after the S&P 500 U.S. stocks index chalked up a four-day winning streak, its longest run since May.

Investors would undoubtedly be on the lookout for retail sales figures for the day after Thanksgiving on Friday, traditionally the busiest time for retailers. However, desultory economic conditions may encourage thrift in consumers.

The willingness of investors to take risks for higher returns, essential for smooth functioning of markets, has recovered somewhat from earlier in the month.

However, the last few days have seen a buildup in political risks in Asia, especially after the Mumbai attacks and anti-government protestors in Thailand blockaded an airport in Bangkok.

Thai stocks were largely unchanged on a day when the rest of the region was rallying, as protests in Bangkok threatened to escalate into widespread civil unrest after the country's prime minister refused to step down.

The cost of protection against sovereign debt default in Thailand rose and indications of heightened aversion to risk increased in India, adding to uncertainty when investors crave for stability with focus still on the economic impact of the financial crisis.

"Clearly, it will be negative for the sentiment toward India at this point of time, the time when the world is already looking to be highly uncertain in terms of its growth prospects," said Joseph Tan, Asia chief economist with Credit Suisse in Singapore, referring to the attacks in Mumbai.

"This will be negative for the rupee versus the dollar, but again I want to stress that the impact will be short-lived."

The U.S. dollar steadied against the euro after rising on Wednesday on a string of weak U.S. economic data that accelerated safe-haven flows into the world's foremost reserve currency.

U.S. consumer spending in October posted its biggest drop in more than seven years, and consumer confidence fell to a 28-year low in November, further darkening the economic outlook.

The yen and Swiss franc, two currencies that are sought after in times of distress, strengthened the most among major currencies.

The U.S. dollar fell 0.6 percent to 95.05 yen, though it was holding above Wednesday's low of 94.60 yen. Against the yen, the euro fell 0.4 percent to 123.23 yen.

The dollar was down 0.3 percent against the Swiss franc.

Gold prices edged higher in the spot market, rising 0.3 percent to $814.55 an ounce, having risen 11 percent in the last week.