By V. PHANI KUMAR And MICHAEL KITCHEN
Most Asian markets pushed higher Thursday after the International Monetary Fund unveiled a plan to boost its lending resources and the Chinese central bank eased liquidity in the money markets.
Japan's Nikkei Stock Average rose 1% to 8639.68 and South Korea's Kospi gained 1.2% to 1914.97. China's Shanghai Composite climbed 1.3% to 2296.08 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gained 1.3% to 19942.95.
In Australia, a disappointing unemployment report outweighed the positive factors, and the S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.1% to 4214.8.
The widespread gains came after the People's Bank of China offered 183 billion yuan ($29 billion) in 14-day reverse-repurchase agreements Thursday. The cash injection, coming withi liquidity tight ahead of next week's Lunar New Year holidays, pulled short-term borrowing rates lower in Chinese interbank money markets.
Michael Hsia, a hedge-fund sales executive at Louis Capital Markets, said "everybody's getting a little excited" in the wake of the Chinese central bank's action, overnight gains on Wall Street and the IMF's plan to raise an additional $500 billion in lending resources.
"So the mood is good and the momentum still seems to be with the markets to go up," he said. "People have been chasing laggards like Japan [equities] in the last two days, so we have seen some major outperformance."
Chinese markets will be closed all next week for the Lunar New Year holidays, while Hong Kong will be dark Monday through Wednesday and Taiwan's markets were closed on Thursday and won't reopen until Jan. 30.
Shares of chip makers marched higher in Asia after the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index rallied 5% in the U.S. overnight, helped in part by robust earnings for Linear Technology and Micron Technology.
In Seoul, that helped lift shares of Hynix Semiconductor by 4.2%, while Samsung Electronics gained 4.1% despite news it faced a patent suit from Eastman Kodak.
Daniel Cho, head of research at Daishin Securities, said foreign investors were expected to "preemptively buy stocks in anticipation of China's easing" of monetary policy. The expected policy relaxation and liquidity injections by the European Central bank were likely to aid further stock gains in South Korea during the first quarter, he added.
In Tokyo, Elpida Memory—which Yomiuri Shimbun reports is in tie-up talks with Micron Technology—gained 5.3%, while Kyocera advanced 1.9%.
Real-estate shares were among the leaders in Hong Kong as well as Shanghai, with some major names extending gains from Wednesday's session after weak Chinese housing data earlier in the week raised expectations of support from the central bank.
China Overseas Land & Investment climbed 2.8% in Hong Kong and Poly Real Estate Group jumped 5.4% in Shanghai. Among Hong Kong developers, Hang Lung Properties soared 9.7% after reporting a 29% increase in its underlying profit for the six months to Dec. 31.
Many financial firms also saw strong gains in Asia after better-than-expected quarterly results from Goldman Sachs Group, and on positive reports about talks between the Greek government and private holders of the country's debt.
In Japan, Nomura Holdings added 4.3% and Daiwa Securities Group rose 4.9%, while in Sydney, Macquarie Group made a 2.1% gain. In Hong Kong, China Construction Bank gained 2.5% while insurer AIA Group climbed 3.4%.
Still, IG Markets institutional dealer Chris Weston said Greece remains a serious risk for global equities. "I don't believe the market really has priced in a Greek default as some people say," he said.
Select commodity firms also enjoyed a solid advance, with Weston citing their role as a proxy for global growth expectations. In Sydney, Alumina rose 1.6%, while uranium miner Paladin Energy jumped 5.9%. In Hong Kong, Aluminum Corp. of China gained 5.8% and gold producer Zijin Mining Group added 0.9%.