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03 Mar 2021 | 10:55

Asia report: Markets finish firmer, Australian GDP beats forecasts

(Sharecast News) - Major markets all finished in positive territory across Asia on Wednesday, with Hong Kong's bourse leading the gains, while investors digested the latest economic growth data out of Australia. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 was up 0.51% at 29,559.10, as the yen weakened 0.25% against the dollar to last trade at JPY 106.96.

Automation specialist Fanuc was down 0.28%, while among the benchmark's other major components, fashion firm Fast Retailing rose 0.24% and technology conglomerate SoftBank Group added 2.12%.

The broader Topix index was also 0.51% firmer by the end of trading in Tokyo, closing at 1,904.54.

On the mainland, the Shanghai Composite rose 1.95% to 3,576.90, and the smaller, technology-heavy Shenzhen Composite added 1.3% to 2,363.11.

The unofficial Caixin/Markit services purchasing managers' index (PMI) showed growth in China's services sector slowing in February.

It came in at 51.5 for the month, still above the 50-point level that separates expansion from contraction, but down from the reading of 52 in January.

South Korea's Kospi was ahead 1.29% at 3,082.99, while the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong leapt 2.7% to settle at 29,880.42.

Chinese banks listed in the special administrative region led the gains, with Bank of China up 4.09%, China Construction Bank adding 5.61% and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China ahead 5.81%.

The blue-chip technology stocks were on the front foot in Seoul, with Samsung Electronics rising 0.48% and SK Hynix ahead 1.73%.

Oil prices were higher at the end of the Asian day, with Brent crude last up 1.77% at $63.81 per barrel, and West Texas Intermediate rising 1.76% to $60.80.

"European and US markets had divergent fortunes yesterday, with US markets slipping back, while Europe finished the day higher," said CMC Markets chief market analyst Michael Hewson of the broader moves globally.

"With Asia markets taking their cues from Europe's positive session yesterday, these gains for Europe have continued this morning, ahead of what is going to be a key day for the UK economy, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer unveils his latest budget."

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 was 0.82% firmer at 6,818.00, as fresh data out of Canberra showed the sunburnt country's economy expanding more than anticipated in the December quarter.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, GDP was up 3.1% on a seasonally-adjusted basis for the three month period, which was ahead of expectations for growth of 2.4% according to economists polled by Reuters.

It was, however, lower than the 3.4% growth recorded in the third quarter of 2020.

Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand's S&P/NZX 50 eked out gains of 0.12% to close at 12,359.26, with dairy suppliers in a mixed state even as dairy prices rocketed.

A2 Milk and the Fonterra Shareholder Fund were both up 0.8%, while Synlait Milk was down 0.3%.

The moves came on the back of the latest Global Dairy Trade auction overnight, which saw the price of bulk milk powder rocket 21% higher thanks to rising demand from China.

Both of the down under dollars were weaker against the greenback, with the Aussie last off 0.02% at AUD 1.2791, and the Kiwi retreating 0.08% to NZD 1.3725.
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