Global markets up, Nikkei hits fresh high following Wall Street's post-holiday cheer

MUMBAI, India – Global markets surged and Japan’s benchmark index hit a fresh five-year high Friday as investors followed the lead of buoyant Wall Street traders encouraged by recent numbers indicating the U.S. economy is picking up.

Tokyo’s Nikkei index had shed 0.3 per cent in early trading Friday as traders apparently sold off to collect profits from a five-year high the previous day, but the shares recovered to close slightly higher at 16,178.14 on optimism that the weaker yen would boost exports. The Nikkei has had a spectacular year, up more than 50 per cent since Jan. 4.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose by 0.2 per cent to 23,231.86, and China’s Shanghai composite gained 1.4 per cent to 2,199.06, after the Chinese Cabinet said this year’s economic growth would be 7.6 per cent, down only slightly from last year’s 7.7 per cent. Fears of a sharp slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy had fueled market jitters earlier in the year.

Asian traders were apparently encouraged by an unexpectedly large drop in claims for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, the latest sign that the American job market is improving, which would benefit countries like China and others that depend on U.S. orders to drive their own exports.

South Korea’s Kospi index edged 0.2 per cent higher to 2,002.20, while Taiwan’s Taiex rose 0.6 per cent to 8,535.04. The Sensex index on India’s Bombay Stock Exchange was up 0.7 per cent to 21,219.40.

European traders also joined in the post-holiday cheer, with Germany’s Dax index rising 0.7 per cent in early trading to 9,559.20, the FTSE index of major British stocks up 0.5 per cent to 6,724.99 and France’s CAC up 0.7 per cent to 4,245.66.

On Wall Street on Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 122.33 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 16,479.88. The index has jumped 25.8 per cent in 2013, and is on pace to have its best year since 1996.

In foreign exchange markets, the dollar edged up to 104.74 Japanese yen, while the euro was up by about 1 cent to $1.379.

Oil prices edged down but stayed above $99 on Friday as violence in South Sudan stoked concerns about the African nation’s oil production. Benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery was off 15 cents at $99.40 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.