Asian Stocks Start 2018 on a High Note

By Kenan MachadoFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Asian stocks largely opened higher on the first day of trading in the new year, led by a fresh 10-year high for Hong Kong's benchmark index and solid gains in China.

Malaysia was the sole laggard in the region, with the benchmark FBM KLCI falling 1% on Tuesday after ending at a 2 1/2 -year high last week. Sime Darby Plantation and KLCC Property, which surged on Friday, were about 8% lower in early trading.

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Asia's 2017 star--Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index--rose 1.6% shortly after the open, with highflier Tencent rising more than 2% and big financials including HSBC and AIA climbing more than 1.5% each.

Chinese equities, which lagged behind regional gains last year, got off to a good start. The big-cap CSI 300 led with a 1.1% increase, after an official gauge of Chinese factory activity slipped for December but met expectations.

Iris Pang, an economist at ING Bank, said she expects activity to pick up as China most likely relaxed curbs on coal production in December.

In South Korea, airline stocks surged 5% and other tourist-related stocks rose 2%, helping the Kospi rise 0.3% and offsetting a 2.2% drop in Hyundai Motor. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Monday suggested that Pyongyang was willing to engage in talks with South Korea.

"The key companies that should benefit from the 'temporary truce' between North and South Korea are likely to be in the consumer, leisure and travel sectors," said Douglas Kim, an independent analyst.

Markets in Japan and New Zealand remained closed on Tuesday.

The U.S. dollar started 2018 as it ended last year--lower. The WSJ Dollar Index was recently off 0.1% after falling to its lowest level since late September on Friday. Last year, the index slid 7.5%, its worst year since 2003.

Write to Kenan Machado at kenan.machado@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 01, 2018 21:59 ET (02:59 GMT)