More gains for Asian stocks; New Japanese Prime Minister faces big challenges

<p>Asian stocks continued their winning streak, up for a fourth straight day on positive offshore leads. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index added 1.5% at noon […]</p>

Asian stocks continued their winning streak, up for a fourth straight day on positive offshore leads. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index added 1.5% at noon in Tokyo. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures held yesterday’s gain after a two-day jump in the U.S. gauge. More than five shares advanced for every one that declined on MSCI’s Asia Pacific Index, helping the measure to its longest winning streak in more than five weeks. The gauge has so far fallen 9.6% in August, the largest monthly loss since May 2010.

In economic news, Japan’s unemployment rate rose for a second month and retail sales dropped, highlighting the challenge for new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in securing Japan’s recovery from the March 11 earthquake. The unemployment rate rose to 4.7% in July as payrolls fell by 40,000 from a month earlier, the statistics bureau said today in Tokyo. Retail sales slid a seasonally adjusted 0.3% from June.

In regional stock markets, Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average rose 1.5%, while South Korea’s Kospi Index added 0.9%. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index was flat after rising as much as 1% earlier. Stock markets in Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia are closed for holidays today. In corporate news, Bank of America agreed to sell about half its stake in China Construction Bank for a US$3.3 billion gain as the biggest U.S. lender bolsters capital ahead of new international standards.

In Australian corporate news, ArcelorMittal – the world’s largest steelmaker, and Peabody Energy – reached an agreement to acquire Macarthur Coal after sweetening their bid, valuing the Australian producer at A$4.8 billion.

Australian telecommunications giant Telstra will need to revise its deal with the Australian government owned NBN Co. according to a discussion paper announced by a competition regulator today, sending shares in Telstra down by around 3%.

In regional currencies, the New Zealand dollar climbed to 85.22 U.S. cents, a third day of gains. The increase in New Zealand’s building approvals for July was the biggest since April 2008 and followed a 1% decrease the previous month. The South Korean won rose 0.2% to 1,071.50 per dollar, advancing for a third day.

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