ASIA MARKETS: Hong Kong Stocks Rise To Nearly 2-year High As Oil Shares Advance

By Kenan Machado Features Dow Jones Newswires

Nikkei dips, but Kospi flirts with record high

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Asian shares ended mostly in positive territory Monday, shaking off the weekend's North Korean missile test and a global cybersecurity attack.

North Korea tested a new type of missile, and a global cyberattack hit computers in business, government and health care.

But regional equity strength has persisted in recent weeks despite concerns including North Korea and China's economy, and continued Monday amid signs of investor hope regarding China.

"Risk-off sentiment is not too strong," said Masashi Murata, a senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. Despite weak U.S. inflation data on Friday, the economy there remains steady, he added, auguring well for export-dependent Asian economies.

The S&P/ASX 200 edged up 1.5 points to 5,838.40, reversing losses with oil stocks propped up by rising crude prices. Brent crude climbed more than 2% to trade above $52 a barrel.

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Oil prices climbed after Saudi Arabian and Russian energy ministers said they back a nine-month extension to production cuts (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/crude-oil-jumps-to-2-week-high-as-saudis-russia-back-continued-output-cuts-2017-05-15) led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The rise in oil prices also helped Chinese oil firms listed in Hong Kong, with Sinopec (600028.SH) up 3.2% and Cnooc (0883.HK) up 1.6%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index ended up 0.9% to its best level in more than two years, with its index tracking Chinese firms rising 1.7%.

Asian stock indexes have repeatedly hit multiyear and record highs. But Chinese equities have notably lagged behind amid a government push to rein in speculative and debt-fueled efforts.

Stocks and bonds there started Monday higher amid signs Beijing is taking a softer approach to reduce leverage and prevent risk in the debt-laden financial system.

China's official Xinhua News Agency ran an unexpected editorial Sunday night that urged financial regulators to avoid enabling the recent campaign to prevent risk to actually create more risk. Meanwhile, Premier Li Keqiang stressed during a cabinet meeting Sunday the importance of striking a balance among maintaining financial stability, gradual deleveraging and stabilizing economic growth.

Ten-year Chinese government bond yields fell to 3.6% from 3.66% on Friday. The Shanghai Composite rose 0.2% and Shenzhen Composite ended higher by 0.4%.

Meanwhile, China's flagship forum to promote its "One Belt, One Road," infrastructure program concludes Monday. Beijing has previously sought to stabilize stock markets ahead of important global political gatherings.

Read:Xi pledges $100 billion to 'One Belt, One Road' program (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/xi-casts-china-as-guardian-of-globalization-as-he-pledges-100-billion-to-one-belt-one-road-2017-05-15)

Also:China's economy slows in April in 'turning point' (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/chinas-economy-slows-in-april-in-turning-point-2017-05-15)

In Tokyo, the Nikkei Stock Average slipped 0.1%. Korea's Kospi ended up 0.2% at 2,290.65, close to its highest close of 2,296.37 on Thursday.

Taiwan's index closed up 0.5% to a fresh 17-year high with the Straits Times up 0.2% on Chinese data indicating a stable economy.

"Growth momentum has slowed, with signs of moderation seen in the coming quarters," said Zhou Hao, an economist for emerging markets in Asia at Commerzbank. He is among those who think China's 2017 economic growth peaked in the first quarter.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 15, 2017 08:16 ET (12:16 GMT)