Asian stocks ended mixed on Thursday as coronavirus cases rose in South Korea and Japan, offsetting hopes of further stimulus in China and the Fed’s upbeat tone on the health of the U.S. economy.
China’s National Health Commission reported only 394 new confirmed cases related to the coronavirus outbreak as of February 19, sharply lower than the 1,749 new cases reported in the previous day.
Chinese stocks ended on a firm note after the People’s Bank of China cut its benchmark one-year loan prime rate by 10 basis points, as anticipated, adding to a slew of fiscal and monetary measures in recent weeks aimed at mitigating the economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak.
The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index surged up 54.75 points, or 1.8 percent, to 3,030.15, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index edged down 46.65 points, or 0.2 percent, to 27,609.16.
Japanese stocks closed higher as a sharp sell-off in the yen helped lift exporters. The Nikkei 225 Index rose 78.45 points, or 0.3 percent, to 23,479.15, while the broader Topix ended 0.2 percent higher at 1,674.48.
Automakers Honda Motor, Subaru and Toyota surged 2-3 percent after the yen hit a nearly 10-month low versus the dollar overnight against a backdrop of a weakening economy and the coronavirus outbreak. There were over 70 confirmed cases in Japan as of Wednesday.
Market heavyweight SoftBank Group rallied 3.4 percent after the tech conglomerate unveiled plans to borrow as much as 500 billion yen ($4.5 billion) to improve working capital.
Seven & i Holdings lost 8.8 percent on a Bloomberg report that the retail group is in exclusive talks to buy Marathon Petroleum’s Speedway business.
Australian markets reached new record highs before ending off their best levels. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index edged up 17.90 points, or 0.3 percent, to 7,162.50, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended up 17.80 points, or 0.3 percent, at 7,255.20.
Miners extended gains for the third straight session. Mining heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto edged up marginally, while smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group advanced 1.8 percent and Illuka Resources jumped 6.4 percent.
Retail conglomerate Wesfarmers gained 0.8 percent to extend gains, while Coca-Cola Amatil surged 8.6 percent on upbeat earnings. Carrier Qantas Airways jumped 5.9 percent on share buyback news.
ANZ shares rose about 1 percent after the bank posted its first quarterly home loan growth in almost two years. Origin Energy, the country’s largest electricity and gas retailer, rallied 1.8 percent after its flagship APLNG project reported record output in the first half.
Meanwhile, Whitehaven Coal shares plummeted 5.5 percent. The coal producer reported a 91 percent slump in profit for the first half of the year and lowered its interim dividend.
On the economic front, the unemployment rate in Australia came in at a seasonally adjusted 5.3 percent in January. That exceeded expectations for 5.2 percent and was up from 5.1 percent in December.
The economy added 13.500 jobs last month, again surpassing forecasts for a gain of 10,000 jobs, following the gain of 28,900 jobs in the previous month.
Seoul stocks ended notably lower as investors fretted about the spread of the coronavirus in the country. The Kospi slid 14.84 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,195.50, dropping below the 2,200-point mark for the first time since February 5 after South Korea reported 31 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections to 82.
New Zealand shares rose notably to hit a record high on expectations of more stimulus from China and amid signs of strength in the U.S. economy.
The benchmark NZX 50 Index climbed 83.83 points, or 0.7 percent, to 12,064.86, surpassing the 12,000 level for the first time. Heavyweight Auckland International Airport jumped almost 3 percent.
U.S. stocks rose overnight as Apple shares rebounded, Chinese officials reported the lowest number of newly confirmed cases since late January and the latest FOMC meeting minutes signaled growing optimism about the U.S. economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.4 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite and the S&P 500 added 0.9 percent and half a percent respectively to reach fresh record closing highs.
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