Asian Shares Mostly Higher As Lockdown Curbs Ease

Asian shares ended broadly higher on Wednesday as several countries announced plans to ease lockdown measures amid falling coronavirus infection rates.

The Japanese markets were closed for the Constitution Day holiday. China’s Shanghai Composite index gained 0.63 percent to end at 2,878.14 as traders returned to their desks after a five-day break.

Hang Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 1.13 percent to 24,137.48 even as data showed the country’s retail sales fell for the fourteenth straight month in March. The private sector in Hong Kong continued to contract in April, albeit at a slightly slower rate, the latest survey from IHS Marketing revealed.

Australian markets finished modestly lower, dragged down by banks. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 22.50 points, or 0.42 percent, to 5,384.60, while the broader All Ordinaries index ended down 13.30 points, or 0.24 percent, at 5,464.80.

Banks ANZ, NAB and Westpac fell between 1.5 percent and 2.4 percent on concerns that a sharp rise in credit loss provisions could hit their bottom lines.

Storage company National Storage REIT slumped 6.5 percent after completing its fully underwritten $300 million institutional placement.

Energy stocks eked out modest gains after oil prices soared overnight on hopes for a pick-up in fuel demand.

Mining heavyweights BHP and Rio Tinto shed around 0.9 percent each, while gold miner Newcrest jumped 3.2 percent, Northern Star Resources rose over 1 percent and Regis Resources advanced 1.5 percent.

Electronics and hardware giant JB Hi-Fi climbed 3.4 percent after posting strong third-quarter results.

In economic news, a government report showed that retail sales in Australia spiked a seasonally adjusted 8.5 percent month-on-month in March – beating expectation for an increase of 8.2 percent following the upwardly revised 0.6 percent gain in February.

Seoul stocks advanced on hopes that the reopening of businesses and relaxations for movement during lockdown will eventually lead to economic revival.

The benchmark Kospi rallied 33.39 points, or 1.76 percent, to close at 1,928.76. Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and Hyundai Motor rose 1-2 percent, while the country’s top web portal operator Naver surged as much as 6.5 percent.

New Zealand shares rose notably, with the benchmark NZX 50 index rising 82.11 points, or 0.78 percent, to 10,572.84 after some European and Asian countries along with several U.S. states began to ease coronavirus lockdown measures.

Pushpay Holdings shares soared 20.9 percent after the payments platform provider said it expects its rapid pace of growth to continue.

The jobless rate in New Zealand came in at a seasonally adjusted 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2020, Statistics New Zealand said in a report.

That was up from 4.0 percent in the three months prior, although it beat expectations for 4.3 percent. The employment change was roughly flat quarter-on-quarter.

Singapore’s Straits Times index was up 1.2 percent despite weak economic data. The private sector in Singapore continued to contract in April, and at a faster rate, the latest survey from IHS Marketing revealed with a record low PMI score of 28.1, down from 33.3 in March.

Separately, official data showed that the country’s retail sales declined 13.3 percent year-on-year in March as consumption decreased due to the containment measures enforced to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Indonesia’s Jakarta Composite index was down half a percent. The country’s GDP climbed 2.97 percent on a yearly basis in the first quarter, much slower than the 4.97 percent expansion seen in the fourth quarter as the Covid-19 outbreak weighed heavily on consumption, investment and tourism, official data showed.

U.S. stocks rose overnight to extend gains from the previous session as oil prices soared to their highest level in a month, lockdown restrictions began to ease in the U.S. and Europe, and Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their potential coronavirus vaccine began human trials.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Richard Clarida told CNBC that the economy will likely recover in the second half of the year and that more fiscal and monetary support may be needed.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.6 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite climbed 1.1 percent and the S&P 500 advanced 0.9 percent.

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