Asian markets advance as value emerges

<p>Asian stocks firmed today, paring the regional benchmark index’s sixth weekly decline as US consumer confidence improved, easing concern that the global recovery will falter. […]</p>

Asian stocks firmed today, paring the regional benchmark index’s sixth weekly decline as US consumer confidence improved, easing concern that the global recovery will falter. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average advanced 1.3%. South Korea’s Kospi Index added 0.2%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.4% and China’s Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.1% ahead of the release of the nation’s May trade data.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index increased 0.6% to 133.42 in early Tokyo trade, trimming this week’s decline to 0.4%. About three stocks advanced for each that fell in the gauge. Some $407 billion has been erased from the market value of the measure since this year’s peak on May 2 through yesterday, amid disappointing economic data, capped by a jobs report last week that showed US companies hired fewer workers than estimated.

In economic news, the Bank of Korea (BOK) raised interest rates for a third time this year to rein in inflation that has exceeded its target range and curb record household debt. Governor Kim Choong Soo boosted the benchmark seven-day repurchase rate to 3.25% from 3%, following quarter-percent increases in January and March, the central bank said in a statement in Seoul today. South Korea joined Thailand in raising borrowing costs this month as job growth and costlier energy caused consumer-price gains to exceed the BOK’s 4% ceiling every month this year.

Despite Australian rates remaining unchanged, New Zealand’s central bank may start to reverse a March interest-rate cut and boost borrowing costs sooner than previously estimated as the economy recovers from the nation’s deadliest earthquake in 80 years. Governor Alan Bollard said yesterday a gradual rise over the next two years will be needed. New Zealand’s dollar advanced yesterday to a record 83.02 US cents, an appreciation that Finance Minister Bill English has said is a ‘headwind’ for exporters.

In corporate news, Honda Motor – the Japanese carmaker that gets 44% of sales from North America – gained 1.4%. Toyota Motor jumped 1.7% as it plans to release today an earnings forecast, boosting confidence that the world’s biggest automaker is recovering after production was disrupted in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake. BHP Billiton – the world’s largest mining company and Australia’s No. 1 oil producer – added 0.7% after oil and metal prices increased overnight.

Immediate-delivery of gold bullion was little changed at $1,543.88 an ounce at 10.18am Seoul time, climbing 0.1% for the week. Futures for August delivery were also little changed at $1,544.90 an ounce on the Comex in New York. Corn for July delivery traded little changed at $7.8475 a bushel after jumping as much as 3.8% yesterday to the highest level in three years following the US Department of Agriculture’s estimate cutting supplies.

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