Asian stocks mostly higher on earnings, rising China factory output

EnergyAssociated Press

Asian stocks were mostly higher Thursday on upbeat corporate earnings and rising Chinese factory output after the chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve said it will be patient about increasing interest rates.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.1 percent to 18,785.79 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 percent to 24,892.06. China's Shanghai Composite Index jumped 2.2 percent to 3,298.36. South Korea's Kospi inched up 0.1 percent to 1,993.08. But Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 percent to 5,908.50. Stocks in Southeast Asia were mostly lower while stocks in New Zealand were higher.

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CHINA FACTOR: The preliminary version of HSBC Corp.'s purchasing managers' index showed China's manufacturing activity edged up to a four-month high in February. The index rose to 50.1 from 49.7 in January on a 100-point scale in which numbers above 50 show activity expanding. HSBC economist Qu Hongbin said it showed "marginal improvement" in manufacturing heading into the Lunar New Year holiday.

EARNINGS: Qantas Airways Ltd., Australia's largest airline, reported its best half-year results since 2010, beating forecasts with a 206 million Australian dollar ($162 million) profit for the six months through December. Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets said the result will ease investor concern and justify a Qantas share price that has more than doubled in the last four months.

FED PATIENCE: Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen's remarks in her second appearance before Congress in two days generated no market-moving news. A day earlier, Yellen suggested that the Fed is in no hurry to raise rates because too many Americans are still unemployed, wage growth is sluggish and inflation is too low.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "China's manufacturing PMI surpassed expectations in February," said Mizuho Bank in a report. "Meanwhile, Yellen's measured tone yesterday suggests that the Fed is unlikely to tighten policy rates aggressively this year. ... All this was sufficient to provide some improvement in sentiment."

ANOTHER TAKE: "Japan has managed to extend its gains and trade at fresh cycle highs with speculation that a number of Japan's pension funds are looking to reallocate more funds to Japanese equities," said Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG.

CONDOM STOCK: Shares of South Korea's leading latex and condom maker Unidus Corp. shot up by the daily limit of 15 percent shortly after the country's constitutional court said adultery is no longer a crime. The court abolished a 62-year-old law that bans extramarital affairs.

WALL STREET: The Dow Jones industrial average notched its third record-high close in a row Wednesday, even as other indexes ended lower. The Dow ended up 0.1 percent at 18,224.57. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 0.1 percent to 2,113.86. The Nasdaq shed 0.02 percent to 4,967.14.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 30 cents to $50.69 a barrel in New York. On Wednesday, the contract rose $1.71 to close at $50.99 after the U.S. Energy Department reported diesel and gasoline inventories fell more than expected, indicating a pickup in demand. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, lost 15 cents to $61.50 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 118.813 yen from Wednesday's 118.874 yen while the euro slipped to $1.1355 from $1.1361.