Japan's Nikkei tops 40,000, as investors await China political meeting

AP , Monday 4 Mar 2024

Asian stocks were mostly higher Monday ahead of China’s top annual political gathering, while Japan’s benchmark surpassed the 40,000 level for the first time.

People walk in front of an electronic stock board showing Japan s Nikkei 225 index at a securities f
People walk in front of an electronic stock board showing Japan s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm Monday, March 4, 2024, in Tokyo. AP


U.S. futures fell and oil prices were little changed.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 share index advanced 0.5% to 40,150.00, breaching the 40,000 level, after a big rally on Wall Street last week pushed U.S. stocks to new heights.

Shares in Japan have tracked gains in other markets driven by expectations for strong demand for technology associated with artificial intelligence. They have also been boosted by continued easy credit policies with the Bank of Japan pumping money into the economy to help support growth.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.2% to 16,558.00 and the Shanghai Composite index rose 0.2% to 3,033.63.

All eyes will be on the National People’s Congress annual meeting in China that starts Tuesday, during which Beijing might announce steps to bolster an economy that is sagging under the weight of expanded government controls and the bursting of a real-estate bubble.

The Kospi in Seoul surged 1.2% to 2,672.94 after a private-sector survey showed manufacturing activity expanding at a slower pace in February compared to previous months as overseas demand weakened.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.1% at 7,598.00, and in Bangkok the SET edged 0.1% lower.

On Wall Street on Friday, the S&P 500 rose 0.8% to 5,137.08 a day after setting an all-time high. It’s been on a tremendous run and has climbed in 16 of the last 18 weeks because of excitement about cooling inflation and a mostly resilient U.S. economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.2% to 39,087.38. Technology stocks led the market, and the Nasdaq composite jumped 1.1% to 16,274.94, a day after surpassing its prior record set in 2021.

Dell Technologies helped drive the stock market after jumping 31.6%. It reported stronger profit and revenue for the latest quarter than analysts expected, highlighting demand for its AI-optimized servers.

A seemingly neverending crescendo of demand for artificial-intelligence technology has helped catapult stocks higher over the last year. Dell has more than tripled in the last 12 months, while Nvidia has surged more than 260%.

The mood was much more dour in the banking industry, where New York Community Bancorp tumbled 25.9%. It warned investors last week that it found weakness in how it internally reviews loans, caused by ineffective oversight, risk assessment and monitoring activities.

Much attention has been on smaller regional banks after last year’s crisis in the industry led to the collapses of several. One of them, Signature Bank, was swallowed up by NYCB, which has caused the resulting bank to face stricter oversight amid struggles for loans tied to real estate.

While NYCB faces many issues that are specific to it, the worry has been that banks across the industry face challenges from loans made for real estate projects.

They are under pressure in part because the Federal Reserve has hiked its main interest rate to the highest level since 2001. High interest rates can squeeze the financial system. The hope has been that the Fed will cut interest rates several times this year to offer some relief for banks and the broader economy.

The Fed has indicated it may do so if inflation continues to cool decisively toward its 2% target. But a string of stronger-than-expected reports on the economy have made traders push back forecasts for when the cuts could begin. The hope now is that the Fed could start in June after traders shelved earlier expectations for March.

In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 4.20% from 4.25% late Thursday.

In other trading, U.S. benchmark crude oil lost 2 cents to $79.95 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 11 cents to $83.66 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar rose to 150.16 Japanese yen from 150.11 yen. The euro was up to $1.0845 from $1.0837.

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