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November 30, 2011

Asia Markets Rally, but Concerns Remain About Global Economy

by Steve Herman

Asia's stock markets on Thursday rallied to two-week highs, following similar gains on Wall Street from efforts by leading central banks to boost liquidity. But some prominent bankers and economists remain concerned about the state of the global economy. 

On Wednesday bankers in key financial centers announced a coordinated plan to cut costs for providing dollars to financial institutions. Markets reacted swiftly, with a four percent gain on Wall Street.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei index trimmed earlier gains but still closed up nearly two percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 5.6 percent.

And here in Seoul, the KOSPI staged a 3.7 percent rally. The broad-based buying became so frantic in the afternoon that the South Korean exchange was forced to halt trading for five minutes.

Stock indexes on the Chinese mainland also rose despite official data showing the country's manufacturing activity contracted in November for the first time in 33 months.

Shares were also boosted by China's easing Wednesday of its credit controls.

Few are willing to characterize the markets' rallies as signaling better times.

Bank of Japan governor Masaaki Shirakawa says the liquidity boost he and other central bankers are providing will not solve, on its own, Europe's fiscal crisis.

Samsung Economic Research Institute vice president Kwon Soon-woo says stock markets will continue to be volatile, as long as economic uncertainty looms.

Kwon says the volatility will harm the real economy. He explains that companies hate uncertainly and it affects their investment plans. The volatility will only disappear, Kwon predicts, when the European fiscal crisis is resolved.

The South Korean research institute on Thursday announced that while it does not expect Europe's woes to ignite a global financial crisis next year, that possibility cannot be ruled out.

In currency trading in Asia, the euro firmed against both the U.S. dollar and the yen. But the dollar weakened against many Asian currencies.