HONG KONG – Most Asian stock markets rose Monday, with Australia's benchmark gaining its most in almost two weeks, as investors appeared encouraged by government efforts to help the global economy weather the financial crisis. European shares opened modestly higher.
Across Asia, markets seemed to shrug of more dispiriting economic data and focus on fresh stimulus plans.
The Korea Composite Stock Price added 1.4 percent after the government unveiled nearly $11 billion in new spending measures to protect South Korea from sliding into recession.
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 closed up more than 5 percent — its best performance in almost two weeks — despite troubling evidence of slowing manufacturing and retail sales, as traders anticipated a further interest rate cut from the country's central bank on Tuesday.
India's main stock index rose 3.5 percent after a central bank decision over the weekend to cut the nation's key interest rate and release $8.1 billion into its financial system.
Hong Kong's blue-chip Hang Seng Index climbed 375.70, or 2.7 percent, to 14,344.37 but closed well off its session highs. Singapore's key index rose more than 4 percent.
"I don't think it's a massive change in direction, more a case of a little more confidence going forward in massively oversold stocks and ... global organized attempts to deal with the issues," said Miles Remington, head of Asian sales trading at BNP Paribas Securities in Hong Kong.
U.S. stock index futures were up modestly, suggesting that Wall Street would open higher. The Dow Jones industrial average added 144.32, or 1.6 percent, to close Friday at 9,325.01. Dow futures were up 0.6 percent, while S&P futures were up 0.5 percent.
In early trading in Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.7 percent, Germany's DAX improved 1.5 percent and France's CAC-40 was about 1 percent higher.
Financials were sharply higher in many Asian markets. China's ICBC gained 9.6 percent in Hong Kong, top Indian lender ICICI Bank Ltd. rose 5.1 percent, and leading Australian investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd. surged 12.4 percent.
Elsewhere, the prospect of interest rate cuts from the Philippine central bank buoyed the country's market for the fourth straight session.
Shanghai's benchmark, though, erased early gains to trade in negative territory amid reports suggesting Chinese manufacturing, the engine behind the country's phenomenal growth, was contracting. The index closed down 0.5 percent.
Japanese financial markets were closed Monday for a public holiday and due to reopen Tuesday.
Global stock markets could take direction from the U.S. this week after the country's presidential election on Tuesday helps fill in some blanks about how Washington might shape economic policy in the months ahead.
Analysts offered differing opinions of the election's likely impact on markets.
Chelsea Dipasupil, head of research at RCBC Securities Inc., said the Philippine market appeared to be welcoming the possibility of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama winning.
"Since it is Obama leading surveys, it might be that there is a renewed confidence in a new leadership," she said. President George W. Bush and the Republicans "had become unpopular because of some of his policies and the current economic crisis," she said.
CFC Seymour analyst Dariusz Kowalczyk said an Obama win might provide "economic policy clarity" but Democratic control of U.S. economic policy "would risk disincentivising entrepreneurship."
That could weigh on the long-term outlook for productivity and growth, which could be "market-negative" in the medium term, the Hong Kong-based analyst said in a research note.
Investors will also keep an eye on U.S. reports due on manufacturing, the service sector and employment in the world's largest economy amd major market for Asia's exports.
October was a brutal month for Asian markets, but ended with tentative signs of recovery. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index shed about 23 percent during the month amid worries that the global financial crisis would erode corporate profits. The benchmark dropped as low as 11,015.84 last Monday — its worst close since May 2004 — but has since rebounded.
Oil prices sank after gaining in the day, losing $1.10 to $66.71 a barrel in Asian trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The dollar gained to 99.33 yen from 98.44 late Friday in New York, and up sharply from the 13-year low of 91 yen touched Oct. 24. The euro was higher at $1.2842 from $1.2751.