By PAMELA SAMPSON
BANGKOK – Asian stock markets rose Monday as a weakening yen and a drop in U.S. unemployment helped key exporters in Japan gain ground despite the country’s ongoing nuclear crisis.
Oil prices jumped to fresh 30-month highs above $108 a barrel, pushed upward by signs that a stronger U.S. economy would strengthen demand for oil while continuing unrest in some oil-producing countries could disrupt supplies.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index was 0.4 percent higher to 9,749.24, shrugging off a Bank of Japan report that business confidence among major manufacturers had fallen following last month’s catastrophic earthquake, which unleashed a tsunami that killed up to 25,000 people and caused $300 billion in damage.
Major Japanese exporters were up, including Nissan Motor Corp., up 0.8 percent; and Sharp Corp., up 1.7 percent.
The central bank’s revised quarterly survey of business sentiment showed the main index for large manufacturers fell to plus 6, down from plus 7 before the March 11 disasters. The outlook for the next three months was bleaker, with sentiment falling into pessimistic territory.
The crisis drawing the most attention was unfolding at the heavily damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex along the northeastern coast, where officials were three weeks into a still-unsuccessful mission to contain a menacing radiation leak caused by the tsunami. The damage forced the plant to cut its daily power supply in Tokyo and surrounding areas. Power shortages forced many factories to suspend output.
Worries over that are “still weighing on sentiment,” said Simon Wong, economist at Standard Chartered Bank in Hong Kong. Another worry was future power supplies in Japan since the country “is in for a prolonged period of power rationing, at least until summer.”
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 1.1 percent to 24,061.27, with banking shares among major gainers. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. rose 1.4 percent. South Korea’s Kospi was down 0.6 percent to 2,108.11. Markets in mainland China and Taiwan were closed for a holiday.
On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department said the unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent, the lowest since March 2009, as companies added workers at the fastest two-month pace since before the recession began. Approximately 216,000 new jobs were created last month, offsetting layoffs by local governments. Economists had expected the unemployment rate to remain at 8.9 percent.
“Markets took much comfort from Friday’s payrolls, which … reinforced the idea that recovery is proceeding apace and that it now includes job growth, which will reinforce it all the more,” DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a research note.
The report helped send the Dow Jones industrial average to a new 2011 high during early trading. The Dow rose 0.5 percent to 12,376.72. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.5 percent to 1,332.41. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.3 percent to 2,789.60.
The yen was trading at 84.16 in Asia early Monday, up from 84.09 late Friday in New York. The euro weakened to $1.4227 from $1.4236.
Benchmark crude for May delivery was up 18 cents to $108.12 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract settled at $107.94 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday, a new 30-month high.
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.