TOKYO – Optimism that a prolonged global economic downturn will be averted lifted Japanese stocks Thursday, following an aggressive interest rate cut in China and assurances by President-elect Barack Obama for a swift economic rescue plan.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average added 160.17 points, or 2 percent, to 8,373.39 — its highest level in more than a week. The broader Topix index rose 1.5 percent to 829.03.
A 1.08 percentage point reduction in China's key one-year lending rate announced late Wednesday — its biggest rate cut since 1997 and the fourth in three months — helped boost marine transport, steel and machinery issues by alleviating fears of a slump in China's demand for raw materials.
Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., the world's biggest cargo shipper, jumped 7.4 percent to 478 yen, and construction machinery maker Komatsu Ltd. advanced 4.4 percent to 1,070 yen.
Overnight, U.S. markets reversed losses after Obama pledged he would have an economic plan on his first day in office. After filling more spots on his economic team, Obama declared: "help is on the way." The Dow Jones industrials rose 2.9 percent to 8,726.61.
Securities companies were among the day's biggest winners, with Nomura Holdings Inc. surging 5.3 percent to 680 yen and Daiwa Securities Group Inc. up 6.3 percent at 473 yen.
Still, investors were reluctant to drive stocks much higher amid ongoing concerns about the yen's strength and the latest terrorist attacks in India, said Mitsushige Akino, fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management in Tokyo.
"The U.S. is spending money right now on measures to boost the economy," he said. "If geopolitical risks rise, like terrorism, then it will probably have to spend even more money in response. Then that will only further weaken the dollar."
Japanese exporters in particular have been hit hard this year by the stronger yen, which reduces profits earned abroad and makes their products more expensive in overseas markets.
Shares of Panasonic Corp. declined 4.7 percent to 1,284 yen on speculation that it planned to slash its profit outlook, which it announced after the market closed. Blaming the "rapid appreciation of the yen," the Osaka-based company now expects net profit of 30 billion yen from its previous forecast of 310 billion yen.
The dollar was trading at 95.15 yen from 95.54 late Wednesday. The euro stood at $1.2887 from $1.2889.