ASIA MARKETS: Asian Stocks Advance As BOJ Stays Pat

By Kenan Machado Features Dow Jones Newswires

Strong exports boosts Nikkei, energy firms surge in Australia

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Japanese equities climbed Thursday, leading stock markets in the region higher, after the Bank of Japan raised its economic growth forecasts while once again pushing back its inflation target.

At the end of its monthly policy meeting (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/bank-of-japan-leaves-monetary-policy-alone-pushes-back-inflation-goals-2017-07-19), the central bank raised its economic assessment for the country, saying it was "expanding moderately," while it upgraded the growth projection for the year ending March 2018 to 1.8% from 1.6%.

Nonetheless, the BOJ now expects inflation to reach around 2% in the year ending March 2020, a year later than its previous projection. This is the sixth time it has had to postpone the target under Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda's leadership.

"The BOJ's target seems a long way off," said Marcel Thieliant, a senior Japan economist at Capital Economics, but he said the good news was that the BOJ will likely have to maintain its ultra-easy monetary policy for an extended period.

The Nikkei Stock Average's rose 0.6%, accelerating after rising about 0.2% in the morning. Early gains were driven by robust exports data in June, the seventh straight monthly gain, helped by steady demand overseas for semiconductors as well as a weaker yen.

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More broadly, the focus in the market is turning to the European Central Bank's monetary decision later in the day, for comments related to any policy tightening plans.

But a weaker U.S. dollar that has lifted the yen and euro could curtail the ECB's ability to sound excessively hawkish, said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

"Their potential for jawboning is low," he said.

Elsewhere in the region, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.5%, after data that showed the nation's job market remained strong in June, with unemployment close to its lowest levels in four years (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/australias-unemployment-rate-unchanged-in-june-2017-07-20).

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index moved up 0.3%, while the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.4% as did Korea's Kospi

In Australia, gains were helped by a 8.3% surge in shares of oil and gas firm Santos (SSLTY) after the company raised its output guidance for the year and said it continued to make progress on cutting costs and debt.

Overnight gains in oil prices to a six-week high, thanks to a U.S. government report showing sharp drawdowns in oil and fuel stockpiles, also lifted energy-related stocks. Apart from Santos, Australia's Oil Search (OSH.AU) gained 2.4%. In Japan, oil giants Inpex Corp. (1605.TO) and Japan Petroleum (1662.TO) rose more than 1.2% each.

In currency markets, the Australian dollar jumped to a fresh two-year high against the U.S. dollar following a strong June jobs report. Meanwhile, the Japanese yen hovered near session lows against the greenback after the BOJ announcement, on increased risk-taking appetite among investors.

Bucking the stock gains in the region, New Zealand's NZX 50 index corrected 0.8% on profit-taking, after closing at another fresh record on Wednesday.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 20, 2017 07:11 ET (11:11 GMT)