Asian stock markets mixed; Japan's Nikkei rises after G20 officials refrain from yen criticism

BANGKOK – Japan’s benchmark stock index jumped Monday after Group of 20 finance officials refrained from directly criticizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government for trying to force down the yen. Other Asian stock markets were mixed.

Currency policy was centerstage at the weekend meeting in Moscow of finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 biggest advanced and emerging economies. Japan’s currency was of particular interest because Abe has repeatedly said that he wants a cheaper yen to help manufacturers compete. Japanese exporters have long been unhappy with the yen’s rise due to its status as a safe haven.

The absence of criticism left Abe room to pursue his agenda, analysts said.

“The lack of specificity will mean that the G20 statement will allow further unobstructed” yen weakness in the months ahead, Mitul Kotecha of Credit Agricole CIB said in a market commentary.

The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo surged 2.1 per cent to 11,403.36. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.5 per cent to 5,059. South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.1 per cent to 1,978.64. Mainland Chinese shares opened higher after a weeklong break for Lunar New Year. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.3 per cent to 23,365.53. Stock markets in the U.S. are closed for the Presidents Day holiday on Monday.

“Today there is some softening but not large selling pressure,” said Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. “The U.S. stock market will be closed, so maybe market sentiment may be a little more cautious.”

Among individual stocks, BlueScope Steel soared 15.4 per cent after the Australian steelmaker reported a $12 million loss for the first half of the fiscal year, an improvement from a $530 million loss a year earlier. The company said earnings were expected to continue improving.

Chinese banking shares wilted. Hong Kong-listed Agricultural Bank of China fell 1 per cent, while Bank of China was 1.1 per cent lower.

Last week, the yen fell to a near three-year low against the dollar and the euro. The yen has been steadily declining since December because of expectations that Japan’s central bank would take action resulting in a weakening of the yen.

Since the start of the financial crisis, central banks around the world have been trying to stimulate their economies by keeping interest rates extremely low to encourage consumers and businesses to borrow and spend. One way central banks drive down rates is to use their power to print money to buy up large quantities of bonds.

Several developing economies have recently criticized the U.S. program of quantitative easing for pushing up the value of their currencies. By buying up bonds, the U.S. Federal Reserve has also increased the amount of money in circulation. This has had the side-effect of driving down the value of the U.S. dollar relative to others.

Wall Street stocks barely budged Friday, ahead of the G20 meeting. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 per cent to 13,981.76. The S&P 500 index fell 0.1 per cent to 1,519.79. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.2 per cent to 3,192.03.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was down 24 cents to $95.62 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.45 to close at $95.86 a barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3332 from $1.3355 late Friday in New York. The dollar rose to 94.06 yen from 93.40 yen.


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