Asian Shares Rise As Fed Affirms Easy-money Stance

Asian stocks rose broadly on Thursday after the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s March meeting indicated that officials have little concern over inflation despite rising longer-term government bond yields.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index finished marginally higher at 3,482.55, with healthcare firms gaining ground, buoyed by a ramp-up of vaccination efforts in the country amid the emergence of a new cluster of infections.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index jumped 333.27 points, or 1.2 percent, to 29,008.07 after a survey showed the private sector in the country expanded at a slightly faster pace in March.

Japanese shares edged lower on concerns about a spike in domestic Covid infections and possible restrictions on economic activity.

Amid a sudden increase in coronavirus infections and the spread of a new variant of the virus, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she will ask the national government to designate the capital as an area requiring emergency measures.

The western city of Osaka is also set to declare a medical emergency after infections spiked to a record high.

The Nikkei 225 Index slipped 21.81 points, or 0.1 percent, to 29,708.98, while the broader Topix ended 0.8 percent lower at 1,951.86. Takeda Pharmaceutical lost 3.1 percent and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group gave up 2.5 percent.

Tech stocks turned in a mixed performance. Advantest declined 2.8 percent and Screen Holdings shed 1.3 percent, while Tokyo Electron rose 1.2 percent.

Japan posted a current account surplus of 2.916 trillion yen in February, the Ministry of Finance said today, down 4.7 percent year-on-year. That handily beat expectations for a surplus of 1.966 trillion yen following the 646.8 billion yen surplus in January.

Australian markets rose sharply to hit a fresh post-pandemic high. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index rallied 70.80 points, or 1 percent, to finish at 6,998.80 after having hit as high as 7,012 earlier in the day. The broader All Ordinaries Index ended up 72.90 points, or 1 percent, at 7,250.30.

Robust iron ore prices boosted heavyweight mining stocks, with BHP, Fortescue Metals Group and Rio Tinto rising between 2.2 percent and 2.6 percent.

The big four banks gained between 0.7 percent and 1.3 percent, while energy stocks ended on a lackluster note.

EML Payments surged 5.7 percent to extend gains from the previous session after announcing it was buying a European subsidiary.

Seoul stocks extended gains for the sixth straight day on economic recovery hopes. The benchmark Kospi ended a choppy session up 5.85 points, or 0.2 percent, at 3,143.26, led by auto and bio stocks.

Top automaker Hyundai Motor gained 0.7 percent, while its smaller affiliate Kia advanced 2.1 percent. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics dropped more than 1 percent.

New Zealand shares rallied as minutes from the Fed’s March 16-17 meeting suggested the U.S. central bank is in no rush to raise interest rates. The benchmark NZX-50 Index surged up 145.01 points, or 1.2 percent, to 12,632.60.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare gained 3.6 percent to extend gains from the previous session, while A2 Milk jumped 3.9 percent on bargain hunting.

U.S. stocks ended narrowly mixed overnight after minutes of March FOMC meeting reinforced expectations that interest rates will remain low for some time amid continued uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook.

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