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Nikkei Markets

Asian equities post weekly gains amid optimism over US-China trade

Chinese insurers, Samsung Electronics pace advance

HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Asian shares rose this week amid expectations of growth-supportive policies from Beijing and optimism over U.S.-China trade relations.

The Nikkei Asia300 Index added 1.3% this week. Hong Kong-listed Chinese insurers and heavyweight Samsung Electronics were the biggest contributors to the weekly advance on the gauge. The gains were supported by positive news flow on U.S.-China trade talks, which prompted hopes that the two nations would be able to resolve their current impasse. President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that the U.S. is "doing very well with China" and indicated that Beijing was more amenable to a deal.

Trump's comments followed China reporting an unexpected decline in imports and exports for December, further raising concerns over its growth outlook. The weak trade data came after disappointing China manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) readings had indicated that factory activity contracted last month in Asia's largest economy.

There was a silver lining for Asian equities amid the dismal trade data. Following the data, officials from the People's Bank of China, the National Development and Reform Commission, and China's ministry of finance indicated that Beijing would offer further support to the economy.

China Life Insurance was among the top performers this week, rallying 9.6%. Its peer Ping An Insurance Group reported earlier in the week that its life insurance accumulated gross premium income jumped by 21.4% in 2018. Shares of Ping An rose 3.3% this week. AIA Group, which has a major presence in China, added 3.9%.

Asian technology shares did mostly well this week amid Nasdaq Composite's climb to more-than-one-month highs. Samsung Electronics had added 4.4% since last Friday. Tencent Holdings advanced 1.8%.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing declined 0.9% for the week. After market hours on Thursday, TSMC reported a 0.7% rise in December quarter net profit, in line with expectations. The company's revenue outlook for the current quarter, however, missed estimates.

On Friday, the A300 Index rose 0.8% to 1,256.62 following a report by the Wall Street Journal that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proposed the idea of lifting tariffs on Chinese imports in exchange for longer-term reforms from Beijing. The report was later denied by a Treasury spokesperson.

In major movers on Friday, Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries added 4.3% after December quarter net profit rose 8.8%, beating estimates of analysts polled by Bloomberg. Shares of mobile phone operators Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea tumbled 6.4% and 4.5% after Reliance Industries' earnings revealed that its telecom arm continued to grow at a robust pace.

Sun Pharmaceutical Industries tumbled 8.5% following a report that a whistleblower had filed a fresh complaint against the Indian drugmaker with the country's securities regulator. This is the second complaint against the company in less than two months.

Hyundai Heavy Industries climbed 3%. Earlier in the day, the South Korean company said it won an order to build two crude oil carriers from a European ship owner.

Hindustan Unilever, India's biggest consumer staple company by sales, ended 0.4% lower after a choppy session. It late Thursday reported a 9% rise in December net profit, in line with expectations.

--Nimesh Vora

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