Asian shares climb after S&P 500 record, despite virus woes

Business

Men wearing masks against the spread of the coronavirus stand near an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Shares started out the week on a strong footing after the Standard & Poors 500 hit a fresh high on Friday, with strong data from Japan and China fueling optimism over economic recoveries even as coronavirus caseloads surpass earlier records.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Shares started out the week on a strong footing after the Standard & Poors 500 hit a fresh high on Friday, with strong robust from Japan and China fueling optimism over economic recoveries even as coronavirus caseloads surpass earlier records.

Stock benchmarks rose Monday in Hong Kong, Tokyo and most other regional markets.

Strong Japanese growth data added to confidence the economy is recovering, despite burgeoning waves of coronavirus cases in many parts of the world including Japan. The world’s third largest economy grew at a 21% annual pace in the last quarter, the first quarter of growth in nearly a year.

Investors also were encouraged by Chinese economic data showing a continued recovery in October.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 jumped 1.6% to 25,798.41 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong edged 0.2% higher to 26,209.66. The Kospi in South Korea picked up 1.6% to 2,534.78 and in Australia the S&P/ASX 200 advanced 1.2% to 6,484.30. The Shanghai Composite index gained 0.4% to 3,322.25.

China’s factory output rose 6.9% over a year earlier in October, holding steady at September’s rate, government data showed Monday. Retail sales gained 4.3% over a year ago, up 1 percentage point from the previous month. Investment in factories and other fixed assets rose 1.8% in the first 10 months of 2020, up 1 percentage point from the first nine months.

“The national economy sustained the momentum of steady recovery,” said a government statement.

The Japanese data, while strong, are distorted by the size of the earlier declines, noted Robert Carnell of ING Economics, adding “the economy contracted 28.8% in the second quarter of 2020 and still remains well below pre-COVID levels.”

In quarterly terms, the 7.9% contraction in April-June was followed by a rebound of 5%.

“Japan had a slightly stronger than expected bounce-back in the third quarter, but not meaningfully better in the context of the massive swings we are seeing in economic activity,” Carnell said.

The S&P 500 closed at a record high on Friday on rising optimism that a vaccine for the coronavirus will help end the shutdowns that have devastated economies.

Markets also welcomed the election of Joe Biden as president and the likelihood of Republican control of the Senate, setting up a divided government that will probably mean a continuation of business-friendly policies. Small-company stocks outpaced the rest of the market this week, reflecting greater confidence in the economy.

The S&P 500 added 1.4% to 3,585.15, rising above the index’s previous closing record of 3,580.84 set back in early September. It ended the week up 2.2%.

The Dow rose 1.4%, to 29,479.81 and the Nasdaq rose 1% to 11,829.29.

The Russell 2000, which is made up of smaller companies that tend to benefit the most when investors are positive on the economy, climbed 2.1% to close at 1,744.04, besting the closing high it reached in August 2018. The index jumped 6.1% for the week.

News from drug maker Pfizer earlier in the week that preliminary trial data showed its vaccine to be 90% effective against COVID-19 drove investors to sell the high-flying technology stocks that have powered the markets most of the year and to snap up beaten-down sectors like banks and energy. Stocks in the S&P 500 energy sector rose more than 16% this week, while tech stocks were essentially flat.

Coronavirus caseloads are rising at a faster pace in the U.S. in almost every state. That has had a sobering effect on markets from time to time. Even excitement over possible vaccines has been tempered by expectations that even if a vaccine is finalized soon, it will take months for it to be distributed throughout the U.S. and around the globe.

“The vaccine enthusiasm booster shot remains the dominant narrative, even with surging infections across the U.S.: now more than 1 million since the start of November,” Stephen Innes of Axi said in a commentary.

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AP Business Writers Joe McDonald in Beijing and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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