China stocks jump to 5-year high on stimulus hopes as other markets await Fed meeting

HONG KONG – Chinese stocks surged Monday to their highest in half a decade on hopes of new government stimulus. Other world markets awaited a Federal Reserve meeting this week that may set the stage for the first U.S. interest rate hike since the global financial crisis.

KEEPING SCORE: In early European trading, France’s CAC 40 was up 0.7 per cent to 5,046.34 and Germany’s DAX added 0.9 per cent to 12,007.45. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.2 per cent to 6,775.48. China’s Shanghai Composite Index was the standout performer in Asia, where markets were otherwise mixed. U.S. stocks were poised to open higher, with S&P 500 futures climbing 0.4 per cent to 2,051.00.

CHINA CHEER: Chinese stocks surged to their highest level in about 5 1/2 years a day after Premier Li Keqiang was quoted by official news agency Xinhua as saying policymakers have “fairly ample room” and a “host of policy instruments” to boost economic growth if it slows more than expected. Speaking at the close of China’s annual legislature on Sunday, Li said authorities have that leeway because they held off on bringing in sweeping stimulus measures since the major stimulus in response to the 2008 global financial crisis.

FED IN FOCUS: Investors elsewhere hunkered down ahead of the Fed’s two-day meeting that begins Tuesday. A growing number of investors expect the U.S. central bank to raise its benchmark interest rate sooner rather than later and they will be watching to see whether officials signal through their language whether that’s the case. Global stock markets have been lifted for several years by ultralow rates and other monetary stimulus but a Fed rate hike would mark the start of a return to more normal levels for borrowing costs.

THE QUOTE: The Fed meeting will “undoubtedly” be the week’s highlight for investors, said Michael Every, head of Asia-Pacific financial market research at Rabobank, in a commentary. “We might well say goodbye to the key term ‘patience’, which has become a rolling rule of thumb for ‘a few more months’. In other words, March could officially open the door to a potential June rate hike.”

ASIA’S DAY: China’s Shanghai Composite jumped 2.3 per cent to 3,449.30, its highest since August 2009, on Li’s comments. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped less than 0.1 per cent to close at 19,246.06 while South Korea’s Kospi added 0.1 per cent to 1,987.33. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.5 per cent to 23,949.55. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.3 per cent to 5,797.70. Markets in Southeast Asia were mixed.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was down 38 cents to $44.46 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, after falling earlier to its lowest level in six years. The contract fell $2.21 to close at $44.84 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 26 cents to $54.75 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro strengthened to $1.0529 from $1.0497 Friday. The dollar weakened to 121.33 yen from 121.40 yen.