Asian stocks higher as weak global data boosts stimulus, slow US rate hike hopes

EnergyAssociated Press

Asian stock markets bounded higher Thursday after weak data from major economies boosted hopes for stimulus and a slow pace for U.S. interest rate hikes.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.5 percent to 19,312.79 and South Korea's Kospi was nearly flat at 2,029.07. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.4 percent to 25,185.08 while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.6 percent to 5,898.60. Stocks in mainland China opened higher but lost grounds in late trading while Southeast Asia mostly gained.

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US DATA: Sluggish data from the U.S. showed the world's largest economy may have slowed in the first quarter. Payroll processor ADP said U.S. companies added fewer jobs last month than economists had expected, while an index of manufacturing activity declined for the fifth month in a row. In addition, the government said U.S. construction spending fell in February. After weak data from ADP, analysts said the government's March payroll employment data scheduled to be released on Friday may hit a softer note.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "The policy implication is that the Fed is still leaning toward a rate hike this year," Mizuho Bank Ltd. said in a commentary. "The nuance though is that the pace of tightening will be more gradual and may be pushed back slightly depending on data."

ASIAN DATA: The day before the weak U.S. data, two biggest economies in Asia reported dour industrial figures, adding to pressure on leaders to launch new stimulus. Two surveys by HSBC Corp. and the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing showed weak Chinese manufacturing in March and employers cut more jobs. That came after China's central bank governor's warning that economic growth had fallen "too sharply." In Japan, a central bank's quarterly survey found companies expect conditions to deteriorate and plan to cut investment.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks fell for a second day in a row Wednesday. The S&P 500 index slid 0.4 percent to 2,059.69. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.4 percent to 17,698.18. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite lost 0.4 percent to 4,880.23.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 41 cents to $49.68 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $2.49 to close at $50.09 a barrel on Wednesday on signs that U.S. production growth is slowing. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell 38 cents to $56.72 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.0817 from $1.0768 the previous day. The dollar inched down to 119.54 yen from 119.67 yen.