By V. Phani Kumar and Michael Kitchen, MarketWatch
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) ? Japanese stocks began their 2012 journey on a positive note Wednesday as investors got their first chance to react to an upbeat start to global markets, while Chinese stocks struggled to rise amid lingering concerns about tight liquidity.
However, Australian stocks were the region?s best performers, with resource stocks buoyant after crude-oil futures topped $102 a barrel and gold prices finished above $1,600 an ounce in U.S. trading. Hong Kong and South Korean stocks lagged behind, after recording solid gains Tuesday.
2012: Year of big data
Large data sets and applied analytics will soon be driving daily business decisions. Photo: AP.
Japan?s Nikkei Stock Average /quotes/zigman/5986735 JP:NIK +1.26% ?gained 1.2%, Australia?s S&P/ASX 200 /quotes/zigman/1653884 AU:XJO +1.79% ?jumped 2.1%, and Taiwan?s Taiex added 0.4%.
China?s Shanghai Composite Index /quotes/zigman/1859015 CN:000001 -0.22% was down 0.1%, after moving in both directions following a higher opening. Hong Kong?s Hang Seng Index /quotes/zigman/2622475 HK:HSI -0.29% ? fell 0.5%, while South Korea?s Kospi /quotes/zigman/1652118 KR:0100 -0.19% ?was trading 0.1% lower.
Steve Cheng, associate director at Shenyin Wanguo in Hong Kong, said the Chinese stock markets were likely to perform better in 2012 after suffering deep losses last year.
?We will see a rally, but not a major bull market this year,? he said.
Cheng also said it was likely that the People?s Bank of China may cut banks? reserve requirement ratio before the Chinese New Year holidays later this month.
?Usually, money markets in China are very tight before the Chinese New Year. In order not to have any negative publicity, the PBOC will reduce the reserve ratio again,? he said.
The mixed moves for Asian shares followed an overnight advance for U.S. stocks, which cheered a six-month high for the Institute for Supply Management?s key manufacturing survey, as well as a two-decade low for German unemployment. See report on U.S. stocks? Tuesday trading.
The strong data also helped spur higher prices for London-traded base metals Tuesday, which pushed Australian miners higher Wednesday.
In Sydney, major global miners BHP Billiton Ltd. /quotes/zigman/180893 AU:BHP +3.68% /quotes/zigman/270355/quotes/nls/bhp BHP +5.85% and Rio Tinto Ltd. /quotes/zigman/176317 AU:RIO +2.44% /quotes/zigman/182541/quotes/nls/rio RIO +6.97% climbed 4.1% and 2.8%, respectively, while energy producer Woodside Petroleum Ltd. /quotes/zigman/181325 AU:WPL +2.02% /quotes/zigman/182283 WOPEY +3.50% ?climbed 2.3%.
?The fact that the material sector is top of the leader board again suggests traders are rolling out of low-beta names and adding risk. It is also interesting to see follow-through buying in our local [Australian] market, something that in the last few weeks of 2011 was unheard of,? Chris Weston, an institutional dealer at IG Markets, wrote to clients.
In Hong Kong, PetroChina Co. /quotes/zigman/257868/quotes/nls/ptr PTR +5.69% /quotes/zigman/1876553 CN:601857 +0.92% /quotes/zigman/21986 HK:857 +1.58% climbed 1.2%, and Angang Steel Co. /quotes/zigman/16855 HK:347 +3.70% ? /quotes/zigman/16853 ANGGF +71.76% ?advanced 2.6%. In Shanghai, PetroChina rose 1%.
Those gains in Hong Kong were countered by a 15.6% tumble in shares of Swire Pacific Ltd. /quotes/zigman/14321 HK:19 -15.57% /quotes/zigman/139911 SWRAY 0.00% ,?as investors were pricing in a spin-off of the conglomerate?s property unit.
In Tokyo, Japanese exporters and financials rode the upbeat data which fueled the Wall Street advance to gains of their own.
Among the major climbers, Sony Corp. /quotes/zigman/197500 JP:6758 +1.81% ? /quotes/zigman/197524/quotes/nls/sne SNE +1.88% ? rose 1.6%, and Toyota Motor Corp. /quotes/zigman/199438 JP:7203 +2.77% /quotes/zigman/199376/quotes/nls/tm TM +2.50% improved by 2.6%.
Technology shares also rallied, with Renesas Electronics Corp. /quotes/zigman/326601 JP:6723 +1.49% /quotes/zigman/593649 RNECY -2.36% ?climbing 1.1%, and Fujitsu Ltd. /quotes/zigman/193012 JP:6702 +3.50% /quotes/zigman/192990 FJTSY +2.13% ?rising 3.5%.
Shares of Elpida Memory Inc. /quotes/zigman/358237 JP:6665 +5.59% /quotes/zigman/358241 ELPDF -2.06% jumped 5.6% after a report in Taiwan?s DigiTimes on Tuesday said the firm might be pushed into a tie-up with Toshiba Corp. /quotes/zigman/198925 JP:6502 -0.63% ? /quotes/zigman/529244 TOSYY +3.17% ?by the Japanese government. Toshiba fell 1%, although it reportedly denied the account.
Many major broker stocks also rose across Asia, with Nomura Holdings Inc. /quotes/zigman/196701 JP:8604 +6.44% ? /quotes/zigman/296367/quotes/nls/nmr NMR +4.03% ? /quotes/zigman/134469 NRSCF -6.25% ?up 5.6% in Tokyo, and Macquarie Group Ltd. /quotes/zigman/482521 AU:MQG +1.63% /quotes/zigman/482522 MCQEF +0.79% ? improving by 2.1% in Sydney./quotes/zigman/5986735
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Varahabhotla Phani Kumar is a reporter in MarketWatch's Hong Kong bureau. Michael Kitchen is Asia editor for MarketWatch and is based in Los Angeles.