Asia Markets: Fed restraint, trade hopes bolster Asian markets

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Asian markets were mostly higher on Friday as investors cheered a more restrained Federal Reserve and U.S.-China trade talks.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index

NIK, +0.96%

  advanced 0.7% and South Korea’s Kospi

SEU, +0.44%

  was 0.4% higher. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng

HSI, +0.29%

  rose 0.1%. The Shanghai Composite index

SHCOMP, +0.22%

  was up 0.1%. Australia’s S&P ASX 200

XJO, -0.26%

  lost 0.2%. Shares rose Taiwan

Y9999, +0.24%

 , Singapore

STI, +0.61%

  and Malaysia

FBMKLCI, -0.11%

.

Among individual stocks, Japan’s Fast Retailing

9983, +5.92%

 , owner of Uniqlo stores, jumped 6% despite reporting an 8% slump in year-over-year operating profit last quarter. Shares of camera makers Olympus

7733, +10.01%

  and Nikon

7731, +4.15%

  also jumped. In Hong Kong, Apple

AAPL, +0.32%

  component makers AAC

2018, +3.41%

  and Sunny Optical

2382, +1.05%

  continued to rebound from last week’s losses. Samsung

005930, +1.63%

  rose more than 1% in Korea.

Earlier, U.S. stocks bounced back from a rocky start on Thursday, recording their fifth straight gain. Macy’s

M, -17.69%

  suffered its biggest loss of all time, putting a drag on retailers. But industrial companies rallied after U.S. negotiators said China had agreed to buy more energy and agricultural products and manufactured goods. The S&P 500 index

SPX, +0.45%

  gained 0.5% to 2,596.64. The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, +0.51%

  added 0.5% to 24,001.92 and the Nasdaq composite

COMP, +0.42%

  was up 0.4%6,986.07.

In a speech on Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell stressed that the central bank has the “ability to be patient” with its plans to gradually raise interest rates. He echoed the tone of Fed officials who were present at a meeting last month. Minutes of the meeting, which were released a day earlier, showed the officials believed that the central bank could afford to be “patient” with rate hikes, given volatile stock markets, trade tensions and shaky global growth. A market-sensitive Fed is reassuring to investors who fear its tightening policies would send the U.S. economy into recession.

Talks between American and Chinese negotiators may have ended without significant breakthroughs, but traders are choosing to focus on the positives. The fact that talks lasted a day longer than planned, the release of conciliatory statements from both sides and the possibility of higher-level talks in the near future are fueling gains in Asia. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said late Thursday that he expects China top trade official, Vice Premier Liu He, to visit the U.S. for more trade talks later this month.

“Positive signs on the trade war front continue to resonate favorably with investors, all of which suggest Asia stocks are ready for gains,” Stephen Innes, head of Asia Pacific trading at Oanda, said in a Friday research note.

Oil prices eased after rallying for the ninth consecutive day. Benchmark U.S. crude

CLG9, -0.21%

  dropped 18 cents to $52.41 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract is has surged by 23.7 percent since Dec. 24. It added another 23 cents to $52.59 per barrel on Thursday. Brent crude

LCOH9, -0.29%

 , used to price international oils, shed up 29 cents to $61.39 per barrel. It gained 24 cents to $61.68 per barrel in London.

The dollar

USDJPY, -0.08%

  eased to 108.26 yen from 108.43 yen late Thursday.

Providing critical information for the U.S. trading day. Subscribe to MarketWatch’s free Need to Know newsletter. Sign up here.

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