Shanghai shines in dull Asian markets

Shanghai stood out among generally dreary Asia-Pacific stock markets on Wednesday, rallying nearly 5 per cent on the back of buoyant results from Ping An Insurance.

Shanghai’s composite index surged 4.8 per cent to close at 3,693.106 as Ping An jumped 6.1 per cent to Rmb69 after late on Tuesday reporting a 24 per cent rise in first-quarter profit.

Most other markets in the region drifted lower amid corporate earnings and news, moving little as investors braced for a US interest rate decision later from the Fed.

The Nikkei 225 slipped 0.3 per cent to 13,849.99, while the broader Topix drooped 0.2 per cent to 1,358.65, after being closed the previous session for a national holiday in Japan. Economic data painting a rather pessimistic picture weighed on stocks and helped push June 10-year Japanese government bond futures up 0.55 to 136.15.

However, despite the decline on the day, the Nikkei had its best April in 15 years, according to brokerage Nomura, thanks to a strong performance by finance-related stocks.

Fujifilm was the biggest drag on the Nikkei, falling 5.5 per cent to Y3,990 after forecasting full-year profit for fiscal 2008 to rise just 1.3 per cent to Y210bn. Providing a counterbalance, Matsushita Electric surged 15 per cent to Y2,445 as investors applauded its 30 per cent profit gain for the year.

A stronger yen against the dollar did exporters no favours. Honda lost 3.8 per cent to Y3,300 and Canon dropped 1.9 per cent to Y5,200. The yen was recently trading at Y103.98 per dollar compared with Monday’s Y104.50 levels

A drop in oil and other commodity prices also played a role in the region. The decline in the price of oil, recently around $115.72 and well down from its record near $120 per barrel, weighed on upstream-related stocks across the board. Gold hovered near a 3-month low as the dollar gained against the euro, recently trading around $869.90.

Australia’s S&P/ASX200 lost 0.2 per cent to 5,595.4. The impact of lower commodity prices was mitigated by a 33 per cent surge in shares of Origin Energy to A$13.95. The Australian power retailer said that UK oil and gas group BG had made an unsolicited takeover bid worth $12bn.

BHP Billiton fell 3.7 per cent to A$42.27 while Rio Tinto shed 3.6 per cent to A$136.08. Woodside Petroleum lost 1.4 per cent to A$55.90.

Centro Properties, the heavily indebted Australian investment group, said it had won a seven-day extension to Wednesday’s debt refinancing deadline. Shares fell over 6 per cent after a trading halt was lifted before ending down 4.2 per cent at A$0.455, reflecting markets concerns over whether the extension is long enough.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng dropped 0.6 per cent to 25,755.35, and the index of mainland Chinese shares listed in the territory lost 0.5 per cent to 4,280.4.

Ping An’s Hong Kong shares rose 2 per cent to HK$73.95 while TCL Multimedia was another bright spot, surging 25 per cent to HK$0.405 after swinging back to a profit in the first quarter of the year.

In Mumbai, shares were down 0.2 per cent at 17,351.40 early in the afternoon. Nestle India surged 10 per cent to Rs1,795.10 after reporting a 48 per cent jump in first-quarter profits.

Elsewhere, Singapore dropped 0.3 per cent to 3,162.13, while Taipei rose 0.3 per cent to 8,919.92.

Taiwan’s Quanta Computer jumped 5.5 per cent to T$50.70 after saying profit in the first quarter rose about 20 per cent and projecting shipments for the year to be better than initially expected.

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