World stock markets opened 2009 on a high note, with Hong Kong's index up more than 4 percent, as investors shrugged off more dreary economic news to focus on government moves to ease the global slump.
With most investors away for the holidays and more than half of Asia's markets still closed, trading volumes were extremely light, which exaggerates price moves. Chinese telecom firms surged after Beijing approved next-generation mobile licenses, and commodity companies were lifted by stronger prices for raw materials. European benchmarks followed Asia higher in early trade.
But many analysts found little reason to be optimistic about the world economy as a whole. After one of the worst years ever for global equities, many expect more volatility in the first half as the effects of falling exports and higher capital costs start showing up on company balance sheets.
U.S. & World
"There will be trading opportunities, but I don't think we've hit the bottom yet," said John Mar, co-head of sales trading at Daiwa Securities SMBC Co. in Hong Kong.
"We should get more clarity when we see U.S. earnings reports in 2 weeks time," he said. "It's pretty apparent that they won't be good, but market reaction to these results will help indicate if current levels have priced in a bad earnings environment."
Across Asia there were signs of further deterioration in local economies.
Singapore said Friday its economy shrank for a third consecutive quarter, by 12.5 percent, and lowered its 2009 growth forecast, saying the economy could contract as much as 2 percent or in the best case scenario grow just 1 percent.
China's manufacturing sector, which accounts for 43 percent of the economy, contracted for a fifth straight month in December, according to a CLSA survey. South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, suffered a trade deficit for 2008 — its first in a decade.
For their part, South Korean investors seemed to ignore the downbeat news after President Lee Myung-bak said his priority in the new year would be combating the global economic crisis. Indian investors were awaiting a second economic stimulus package from the government, expected to be unveiled late Friday.
As trading got under way in Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 edged up 0.9 percent, Germany's DAX rose 1.7 percent and France's CAC 40 was 1.5 percent higher.
In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index led the region's session, vaulting 655.33 points, or 4.6 percent, to 15,042.81.
South Korea's Kospi added 2.9 percent to 1,157.40, Singapore's benchmark rose 3.9 percent, and Mumbai's Sensex traded 0.6 percent higher.
Australia was modestly lower. Markets in Japan, mainland China, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and New Zealand were closed.
Among the top gainers were Chinese telecom firms after Beijing said Wednesday it had OK'd licenses for next-generation mobile phone services. China Mobile, the world's biggest phone carrier by subscribers, gained 4.8 percent and China Unicom soared 8.8 percent.
Shares in energy and metal producers were buoyed by a jump in commodity prices earlier this week, with Chinese upstream producer CNOOC up 4.8 percent and Australia's Woodside Petroleum Ltd., the country's No. 2 oil company, adding 1.7 percent.
In South Korea, Hyundai Motor Co. soared 6.2 percent after Myung-bak said the government will drastically increase spending and take steps to provide sufficient liquidity to the currency market, boost domestic demand, keep jobs and support smaller firms.
"I won't neglect even for a moment checking the economic situation and drawing up countermeasures and implementing them," Lee said. "It's time for us to unite."
Wednesday in New York, Wall Street finished its last trading day in 2008 with a modest gain.
The Dow rose 108.00, or 1.3 percent, to 8,776.39, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 12.61, or 1.4 percent, to 903.25.
U.S. markets were set to build on Wednesday's gains as Wall Street futures rose.
Oil prices eased in Asian trade, with light, sweet crude for February delivery down $2.74 at $41.86. The contract rocketed on New Year's Eve to settle $5.57 higher at $44.60.
In currencies, the dollar strengthened to 91.14 yen, up from 90.73 yen and the euro was lower at $1.3924.