Seoul: Asian stock markets moved in tight ranges Friday amid encouraging news about the US economy and indications Chinese policymakers are reluctant to raise interest rates.
Government reports this week in the United States on layoffs, factory production and consumer spending as well as a tax cut plan poised for approval by lawmakers are spurring economists to predict hiring and housing in the world’s largest economy will gain strength in 2011.
China, meanwhile, is trying to control its fast-growing economy and douse rising inflation, which has led to speculation it may follow a recent increase in bank reserve requirements with another interest rate hike.
Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, appeared to ease investor worries, however, saying Thursday in a speech that “the central bank will not use both tools at the same time,” Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
“The news is that the central bank really doesn’t want to raise (the) interest rate,” said Francis Lun, general manager of Fulbright Securities in Hong Kong.
The comments, however, weren’t enough to boost stocks in China and Hong Kong.
China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite index fell 0.3% to 2,888.34 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.3% to 22,607.25.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average declined 0.2% to 10,291.62 amid concerns the market may have risen too far recently. The Nikkei has gained about 5% over the last month.
Australia’s S&P/ASX dropped 0.3% to 4,770.90.
South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.6% to 2,022.04. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore and New Zealand also advanced.
In Tokyo, shares of Sharp Corp. rose 2.8%. The Nikkei financial daily reported that the company plans to open a new plant to build LCD panels for smartphones, mainly for Apple’s iPhone.
In New York Thursday, a small drop in unemployment claims helped push stocks higher. The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed at their highest levels of the year. The Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to 420,000, the third drop in four weeks.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 41.78 points, or 0.4%, to 11,499.25. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 7.64 points, or 0.6%, to 1,242.87. The Nasdaq composite rose 20.09 points, or 0.8%, to 2,637.31.
In currencies, the dollar fell to 83.89 yen from 83.92 yen late Thursday. The euro rose to $1.3290 from $1.3243.
Benchmark oil for January delivery was up 51 cents at $88.21 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost 92 cents to settle at $87.70 on Thursday.