Asia stocks traded mostly higher Monday as investors reacted to U.S. and Chinese data, with Tokyo managing outperform the rest of the region on further weakness for the Japanese yen.
Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average ended 0.5% higher, with Tokyo’s broader Topix benchmark rallying 1.9%. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s Taiex , and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index each climbed 0.3% in late trading, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index closed with a 0.5% gain.
On the downside, the Shanghai Composite Index dipped 0.3% in late-session moves, while South Korea’s Kospi .edged down 0.2% ahead of the close.
“Sentiment appears to be finely balanced between weak Chinese industrial output and retail sales data and the stronger-than-expected U.S. employment landscape,” said CMC Markets trader Niall King.
After the close of Asian trade Friday, monthly U.S. employment data that showed that the economy created 236,000 jobs in February as the employment rate fell to a 2008 low, helping to lift stocks on Wall Street. “There were more jobs, more hours and more pay, which combined with rising wealth effects, gives the consumer sector much more momentum to deal with higher taxes, the sequester and higher oil prices,” said Perpetual Investments head of investment research Matthew Sherwood.
The U.S. dollar rose after the data, with particularly sharp gains against the Japanese yen. The greenback held on to most of that strength through Monday — trading at ¥96.10 by Monday afternoon in East Asia, little changed from ¥96.08 late Friday in North America.
Exporters tend to benefit from a weaker yen, and those firms added to their recent gains Monday in Tokyo, with auto companies especially strong, as Mitsubishi Motors Corp. rose 5.9%, Subaru maker Fuji Heavy industries Ltd. climbed 1.7%, Honda Motor Co. added 2.6% and Nissan Motor Co. advanced 3.2%.
“After what proved to be only a brief pause, the slide in the yen and associated surge in the Nikkei [Average] have both resumed with a vengeance. A yen/dollar exchange rate of ¥100 and a further rally to 13,000 on the Nikkei are certainly plausible targets for the near term,” said Capital Economics economist Mark Williams.
Lifted by inflation optimism, financial-sector firms have also strengthened notably since late last year, and the sector jumped again on Monday. Resona Holdings Inc. surged 13.7%, Shinsei Bank Ltd. climbed 8.4%, and Daiwa Securities Group Inc. traded 6.2% higher.
Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Holdings Inc. moved up 2.3% after announcing late Friday that it will pay off the balance of the public funds it obtained in the late 1990s when the Japanese government bailed out domestic financial institutions to head off a crisis, according to a Nikkei news report.
Still, Sharp Corp. fell 3.1% after the Asahi Shimbun reported Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. would miss a self-imposed deadline to invest in the debt-heavy Japanese tech firm, though it may make an investment later on. Shares of Hon Hai traded flat in Taipei.
Over in Hong Kong, investors were buying into globally exposed firms after the jobs data from the U.S, with logistics company Li & Fung Ltd. , up 1.5%, while fashion house Prada SpA rose 2.3%.
The gains in Hong Kong contrasted with weakness in Shanghai. Chinese data out over the weekend showed consumer inflation accelerating significantly in February, even as industrial output and retail sales eased.
“The weekend China data showed firmer-than-expected [consumer] inflation, firmer-than-expected industrial production and retail sales, and weaker than expected fixed-asset investment — not the mix of activity and inflation officials would have liked,” said RBC Capital Markets strategist Sue Trinh.
“Some caution in interpreting the data is needed, given distortions caused by the Lunar New Year holiday, but it may take another month or two of data to get a clearer picture,” she said.
Bank stocks declined on the Chinese mainland, with China Merchants Bank Co. down 1.4%, and Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. lower by 1.1%, while Bank of Communications Co. fell 0.8%.
South Korean exporters were once again suffering along with the weaker yen, as Korean and Japanese firms compete head-to-head in many overseas markets.
Autos have been particularly hard-hit since the start of the year, and they were lower again on Monday, with Kia Motors Corp. down 1.9% and Hyundai Motor Co. lower by 2.6%.
After the Chinese data, Australian miners fell Monday on concerns about the economic health of their biggest customer, with Rio Tinto Ltd. down 2%, and BHP Billiton Ltd. lower by 0.8%.
Helping to offset the mining-sector losses were energy giant Woodside Petroleum Ltd. , up 0.7%, and telecom heavyweight Telstra Corp. Ltd. , which advanced 1.1%.