HONG KONG (AP) — Japanese stocks rocketed Monday, leading most Asian markets higher after dismal growth data raised hopes for more stimulus for Asia's second biggest economy, weakening the yen. Chinese shares dropped on their first day of trading after a weeklong holiday that coincided with a sharp sell-off in global markets.
KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index soared 5.1 percent to 15,718.42 and South Korea's Kospi climbed 1.4 percent to 1,861.30. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 2.1 percent to 18,700.55. The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China lost 1.7 percent to 2,717.25 after reopening following the Lunar New Year holiday. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.9 percent to 4,807.20. Taiwan's benchmark was down slightly while markets in Southeast Asia gained.
JAPAN GROWTH: The latest data show the economy shrank 1.4 percent on an annualized basis last quarter because of weak consumer demand and slower exports. It's a setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic revival program, which aims to stoke inflation through massive monetary easing. However, the latest report also gives the government more reason to open the stimulus taps wider to restore growth, economists said.
QUOTEWORTHY: "Together with the recent slump in the Nikkei and the appreciation of the yen, the case for additional easing remains compelling," said Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics. He predicts the Bank of Japan will step up bond purchases and push interest rates that are already in negative territory even lower.
CHINA BANK CHIEF: Also helping shore up investor sentiment around the region were comments from China's central bank chief in which he played down the likelihood of a one-off devaluation of the yuan. People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan's signaled in a Caixin magazine interview published over the weekend that China's currency would remain relatively stable, providing relief for the country's exporting neighbors worried that a weakening yuan would hurt their competitiveness.
WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended last week higher, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising 2 percent to close Friday at 15,973.84. The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 2 percent to 1,864.78 and the Nasdaq composite added 1.7 percent to 4,337.51.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil futures lost 31 cents to $29.13 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract climbed $3.23, or 12.3 percent, on Friday to settle at $29.44 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell 48 cents or $32.88 a barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 113.78 yen from 113.22 yen on Friday. The euro weakened to $1.1224 from $1.1257.