Asian Shares Buoyed by U.S. Earnings, Upbeat Talk on China

A currency trader watches computer monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Asian stocks were mostly higher on Thursday as positive U.S. earnings reports reassured investors that the world’s largest economy was on track. Comments by a top Chinese official buoyed trading too, but poor Japanese data for the second straight day weighed on the Nikkei 225 index.

The Shanghai Composite index gained 0.4 percent to 2,592.40 and South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.8 percent to 2,145.03. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng picked up 0.3 percent to 27,080.39. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 added 0.4 percent to 5,865.70. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index declined 0.1 percent to 20,574.63. Shares rose in Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore but fell in Malaysia.

Strong quarterly earnings by big companies like IBM, Proctor & Gamble and United Technologies helped most U.S. indexes finish Wednesday with slight gains. IBM stocks surged 8.5 percent to $132.89 after its fourth-quarter results exceeded expectations. But traders were worried about reports that the U.S. had turned down an offer by Chinese trade officials to meet in Washington this week, citing the lack of progress on issues like intellectual property rights. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow denied it. The S&P 500 index added 0.2 percent to 2,638.70. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 0.7 percent to 24,575.62 and the Nasdaq composite gained 0.1 percent to 7,025.77. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 0.2 percent to 1,454.26.

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan took aim at the U.S. in pointed comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Wang said that “shifting blame for one’s own problems onto others will not resolve the problems,” alluding to a trade war with Washington that has both sides imposing heavy taxes on each other’s imports. Wang said China still has “enormous market potential” despite its recent worse-than-anticipated slowdown.

“Major Asia-Pacific indices are fluctuating around the session break-even point, reflecting the ongoing global debate about growth prospects,” Michael McCarthy, Chief Market Strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, said in an interview.

U.S. crude oil dropped 26 cents to $52.36 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract shed 39 cents to $52.62 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 32 cents to $60.82 per barrel. It lost 36 cents to $61.14 in London.

The dollar strengthened to 109.68 yen from 109.61 yen late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.1383 from $1.1381.