Asian stocks rise after Wall Street advance on aid hopes


BEIJING (AP) – Asian stock markets rose Friday after Wall Street gained on hopes government and central bank action can shield the world economy from a looming recession caused by the coronavirus.

Benchmarks in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Australia and Southeast Asia advanced. Tokyo was closed for a holiday. Oil gained again a day after U.S. benchmark crude soared by a record 23%.

Investors were encouraged after seeing more steps by the Federal Reserve and other central banks and governments to support credit markets and the economy.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index rose 0.5% in a relatively modest change compared with violent price swings over the past week.

Hopes are rising for progress in finding virus treatments and that “a boatload of stimulus by both central banks and governments will put the global economy in position for a U-shaped recovery,” said Edward Moya of Oanda in a report.

On Thursday, the European Central Bank launched a program to inject money into credit markets by purchasing up to 750 billion euros ($820 billion) in bonds. The Bank of England cut its key interest rate to a record low of 0.1%. Australia’s central bank also cut its benchmark lending rate to 0.25%. Central banks in Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines also cut their benchmark rates.

They are trying to reduce the impact of a global recession that forecasters say looks increasingly likely as the United States and other governments tighten travel controls, close businesses and tell consumers and travelers to stay home.

Investors also appeared to be encouraged by reports that China is set to ramp up stimulus spending after the province where the virus emerged in December showed no new infections on Wednesday.

The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.7% to 2,702.13 while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 3% to 22,356.48.

The Kospi in Seoul advanced 5.5% to 1,536.82 and Australia’s S&P-ASX 200 added 0.6% to 4,812.1 after being up more than 4% at one point.

Shares fell in Indonesia, where numbers of virus cases are rising, while New Zealand and other Southeast Asian markets advanced.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Federal Reserve unveiled measures to support money-market funds and the borrowing of dollars as investors in markets worldwide hurry to build up dollars and cash as insurance against falling asset prices.

The dash for cash has strained markets. Sellers of even high-quality bonds say they have difficulty finding buyers at reasonable prices.

Investors are jumpy due to uncertainty about the size and duration of the impact of the coronavirus and the spreading wave of business shutdowns meant to help contain it.

Wall Street has bounced up and down by record-setting margins of up to 12% over the past week.

Unease has grown as forecasters say a global recession looks increasingly likely and have cut growth outlooks for the United States, China and other major economies.

In the United States, the number of people who filed for unemployment benefits jumped by 70,000 last week, more than economists expected. Another weak manufacturing report, this time in the mid-Atlantic region, added to the worries.

The total number of known infections has topped 244,000 worldwide, including nearly 85,000 people who had recovered. The death toll has exceeded 10,000.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and those with mild illness recover in about two weeks. Severe illness including pneumonia can occur, especially in the elderly and people with existing health problems, and recovery could take six weeks in such cases.

On Thursday, European stocks swung from gains to losses and back to gains.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude gained $1.11 to $26.33 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract surged $4.85 on Thursday to settle at $25.22.

Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 75 cents to $29.22 per barrel in London. It rose 14.4%, or $3.59, to settle at $28.47 the previous session.

The dollar advanced to 110.32 yen from Thursday’s 109.95 yen. The euro gained to $1.0732 from $1.0690.

A currency trader walks by a screen showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 20, 2020. Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday after modest Wall Street gains on hopes government and central bank action can shield the world economy from a looming global recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)