Asia Mostly Higher, Japan Soars

Major Asian markets closed mostly higher on Thursday, on the back of the stronger lead from Wall Street following positive economic data.

Markets in Japan finished their first day of trade in the New Year with strong gains while South Korean stocks were weaker than their regional peers.

Japanese markets went back to business Thursday with a vengeance, leaping 741.39 points, or 3.3%, to 23,506.33, and hitting levels not seen in 26 years.

Most sectors were in positive territory, with financials, technology and automakers higher across the board. Toyota rose 2.8% and Honda climbed 3.2% by the end of the day. Heavyweight SoftBank Group closed higher by 4.3%

The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong acquired 175.53 points, or 0.6%, to 30,736.48

Energy-related plays were higher following oil's overnight gains, with the tech sector also recording sizable gains: CNOOC was up 3.6% and Tencent advanced 2.1%

In Korea, the one downward market, technology names closed mostly lower, with Samsung Electronics losing 1.1% and chipmaker SK Hynix giving up early gains to close down 0.8%

Automakers saw declines, with Hyundai Motor falling 2.7% and affiliate Kia Motors losing 3.2% by the end of the session.

Shipbuilders, which had rallied in the New Year due to optimism in the outlook for the sector, were mixed. Hyundai Heavy Industries closed 6.4% higher and Daewoo Shipbuilding was off by 4.1%

In Sydney, markets inched up, with the energy sub-index the top-performer of the day as oil prices touched their highest levels in two and a half years. Oil and gas producers mostly notched gains, with Oil Search rising 3.6% and Woodside climbing 2.7% by the end of the day.

The U.S. dollar held onto gains made against the yen to fetch 112.53, after beginning the week at the 112.3 handle.

Meanwhile the Korean won pared losses against the dollar after softening overnight. The currency had traded at its highest levels in more than three years earlier this week. Late in the day, the won traded at 1,061.05 to the U.S. dollar.


In Shanghai, the CSI 300 gained 17.42 points, or 0.4%, to 4,128.81

A survey released Thursday showed the services sector in the country grew at its fastest rate in more than three months in December. The Caixin services Purchasing Managers Index came in at 53.9 last month, compared to the 51.9 seen in November. That was the highest level recorded since August 2014

The positive read followed the release of expectation-topping Caixin manufacturing PMI data earlier this week. Official PMI for December had been in line with estimates.

In other markets

The Kospi in Korea dropped 19.89 points, or 0.8%, to 2,466.46

In Taiwan, the Taiex Index added 47.06 points, or 0.4%, to 10,848.63

In Singapore, the Straits Times Index improved 36.88 points, or 1.1%, to 3,501.16

In New Zealand, the NZX 50 tacked on 18.59 points, or 0.2%, to 8,443.50

In Australia, the ASX 200 moved higher 6.7 points, or 0.1%, to 6,077.08