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Asian Stocks Make Major Gains - 2003-12-19


Investors in Asia saw a mix of good and bad news this week, but the region's major stock markets closed higher on Friday.

The year's biggest international stock offering took Hong Kong by storm this week. Shares of Chinese insurer, China Life, jumped 26 percent on its first day of trading Thursday.

Analysts say the stock's strong showing underscores the global demand for investment opportunities in China.

"Investors are very interested in China stocks, particularly in market leaders, like the insurance industry," said Joseph Lau, director of Tai Fook Asset Management. "The outlook for the life industry in China is very good, and the [insurance] penetration rate in China is very low."

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 1 percent Friday to 12,371. But that was 1.75 percent lower than last Friday's close.

Mr. Lau predicts the Hang Seng will continue to see profit-taking until the end of the year.

A new case of the potentially deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in Taiwan - the island's first since July - spooked investors this week. The Taiwan benchmark index plunged to a two-month low early in the week Tuesday, but rebounded slightly Friday to reach 5,759. The index was down 1.5 percent for the week.

Japan's Nikkei jumped 1.75 percent Friday, boosted by Wall Street's overnight rally and upbeat U.S. economic news. Exporters such as Sony, Canon and major carmakers were among the biggest gainers. The Nikkei stands at 10,284, up 1 percent from last week.

Also this week, Thailand's SET index broke through 700 points for the first time in more than six years. The stock market is heading for its biggest annual gain in 14 years, having already increased almost 97 percent since the end of 2002.

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