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Asian Markets Reflect Optimism Around Region - 2004-01-09

Markets in Asia rallied this week, with traders saying investors are optimistic about better earnings in 2004. One of the strongest performers was the Philippines, where Manila's main share index saw its highest closing in 33 months.

The main share index of the Philippines Stock Exchange closed at 1,528 on Friday, one of the highest levels in more than two-and-a-half years.

Despite shedding 16 points in trading Friday, the main Philippine index was up almost six percent this week.

Gilbert Lopez is an equities strategist with ING Barings investment bank in Manila. He says there is a new enthusiasm among domestic investors who believe President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will win the presidential election in May.

"I think the market is quietly expecting that there will be a positive outcome in upcoming May 2004 elections… because there has been lot of infighting in the opposition," he said.

Mr. Lopez says President Arroyo is perceived as a stabilizing force in the Philippines. He added that investors think earnings for many listed companies have potential in 2004, especially banking and telecommunications companies.

South Korean electronic shares also surged on expectations for improved earnings in 2004.

Seoul's main share index was almost three percent higher this week and closed Friday at 845, its highest level since May 2002.

As the important "Chinese" or "Lunar New Year" holiday approaches in Asia, stocks in Tapei and Hong Kong ended the week higher.

Taiwan's Taiex index closed Friday at 6,226, a 20-month high and a three percent increase for the week. Traders say electronics and high-tech stocks got a boost from gains made on the technology-heavy NASDAQ stock exchange in the United States.

However, some traders say they would not rule out the possibility of profit taking in the next week and a half, as many parts of Asia prepare for the Lunar New Year, which starts January 22.

In Hong Kong, the main share index continued its rally for the tenth day on Friday.

The Hang Seng closed at 13,385, hitting a fresh 30-month high.