Japanese stocks led gains across Asia, jumping for a third straight day

Hong Kong (AFP) - Tokyo led gains across most Asian markets again Tuesday, in another day thinned by the Lunar New Year break, with sentiment boosted once more by a surge on Wall Street.

Tech firms provided the support in New York as traders gear up for the release of earnings from big-ticket firms including Microsoft and Intel.

Hopes that the Federal Reserve will slow down its pace of interest rate hikes have also given investors optimism that the US economy could avert a recession, or at least suffer only a mild contraction.

The gains come after markets suffered a wobble last week on worries about a downturn caused by a series of interest rate hikes last year aimed at bringing inflation down from decades highs.

“With little new news to guide sentiment, the overnight (on Wall Street) move could be a product of investors getting comfortable with the current macro backdrop while cleaning the slate of last week’s trepidation or simply positioning ahead on next week’s (Fed policy decision),” said SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes.

He added that inflation coming down suggested the days of large 75-basis-point hikes were in the past, with “most officials across the hawk-and-dove spectrum signalling a preference for a slower rate hike pace”.

After Wall Street’s rally, Asia picked up the baton on Tuesday, though most markets were shut for the holidays.

Tokyo added more than one percent for the second day in a row while Sydney, Manila, Mumbai, and Bangkok were also well up. Jakarta and Wellington dipped, however.

But while the year has started on a positive note, BlackRock Investment Institute strategists had a word of warning.

“Markets have leapt ahead this year, driven by China’s reopening, falling energy prices and slowing inflation,” they wrote.

“This has spurred hopes of a soft economic landing, plummeting inflation and interest rate cuts. We see markets vulnerable to negative surprises – and unprepared for recession.”

Oil prices were barely moved after jumping last week to their highest point since November, on demand hopes fuelled by China’s reopening.

“Crude prices are wavering as the dollar stabilises and over-exhaustion from China reopening headlines,” said OANDA’s Edward Moya.

“The economy still could roll over and some energy traders are still sceptical on how quickly China’s crude demand will bounce back this quarter.

“This week will learn a lot about the crude demand outlook after we hear earnings from the airlines and Chevron. Oil should be stuck in wait-and-see mode until we learn more about the health and outlook of the US economy.”

- Key figures around 0605 GMT -

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 1.5 percent at 27,299.19 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: Closed for a holiday

Shanghai - Composite: Closed for a holiday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0880 from $1.0877 on Monday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2387 from $1.2374

Euro/pound: UP at 87.83 pence from 87.82 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 130.12 yen from 130.66 yen

West Texas Intermediate: FLAT at $81.63 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 0.2 percent at $88.01 per barrel

New York - Dow: UP 0.8 percent at 33,629.56 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,784.67 (close)