US, China data lift most Asian stocks

HONG KONG, April 15, 2010 (AFP) - Strong growth figures from China and better-than-expected consumer spending data in the United States lifted most Asian markets Thursday on growing optimism over the global economy.

Comments by US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke that the US would likely see a "moderate economic recovery" also helped sentiment.

Investors welcomed the US figures showing retail sales rose 1.6 percent in March, reflecting growing strength of consumer spending.

A separate report revealed consumer prices rose just 0.1 percent in the same month. US consumer spending is keenly watched as it is traditionally a key driver of the world's biggest economy.

"Yesterday's (US) data showed stronger-than-expected consumption and lower-than-expected inflation. In other words, real growth continues to flow in... while inflation continues to fall," said David Carbon at DBS Group research in Singapore.

Tokyo rose 0.60 percent, or 68.89 points, to close at 11,273.79, while Sydney added 0.14 percent, or 7.2 points, to end above the key 5,000-point level.

Hong Kong was up 0.39 percent by the break.

Meanwhile, Bernanke told Congress that economic demand would be enough to "promote a moderate economic recovery in coming quarters", adding that interest rates would be kept at super low levels for an "extended period".

Wall Street cheered the news and was also given a lift by JPMorgan Chase reporting a 55 percent jump in earnings as the banking giant appeared to continue its journey back to health after the financial crisis.

Comments from its chief executive Jamie Dimon further helped sentiment.

"While the economy still faces challenges, there have been clear and broad-based improvements in underlying trends," he said. "We believe these improvements will continue and are hopeful they will gather momentum, resulting in a strong recovery."

The Wall Street's 0.94 percent rise gave a cue to financials in Asia, with Taipei closing 0.92 percent, or 74.81 points, higher at 8,171.94.

Singapore was up 0.29 percent.

China revealed data showing the economy grew 11.9 percent in the first three months of 2010, the second straight month of double-digit growth.

The government also revealed that the consumer price index, the main gauge of inflation, rose 2.2 percent in the same period, while retail sales jumped 17.9 percent in the January-March period.

The figures pushed Shanghai shares 0.10 percent lower in the afternoon on fears that the government will raise interest rates to keep a lid on inflation.

"The economy is a little bit too hot. I think policy needs to be tightened more aggressively to prevent overheating," Ben Simpfendorfer, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong, told AFP.

The dollar firmed to 93.40 yen in Tokyo morning trade from 93.24 in New York late Wednesday. The euro dipped to 1.3649 dollars from 1.3656 but edged up to 127.48 yen from 127.33.

Oil was higher, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for May delivery, rising 37 cents to 86.21 dollars a barrel and Brent North Sea crude up 30 cents to 86.45 dollars.

Gold opened at 1,157.50-1,158.50 US dollars an ounce in Hong Kong, up from Wednesday's close of 1,155.00-1,156.00 dollars.

Bangkok was closed for a public holiday.

In other markets:

-- Seoul gained 0.49 percent, or 8.58 points, to 1,743.91.

-- Manila closed 0.63 percent, or 20.85 points, lower at 3,278.84.

Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. was unchanged at 51.50 pesos while Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. was down 1.58 percent at 2,485 pesos and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. slipped 3.2 percent to three pesos.

-- Wellington closed 0.43 percent, or 14.39 points, lower at 3,321.12.

Telecom fell six cents to 2.18 New Zealand dollars after it said it was downgrading its guidance forecast for the year ending June 30, 2011 and the following two years because of a softening revenue outlook.

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