Japan stocks jump nearly 3% on hopes of coronavirus treatment

Japan stocks jump nearly 3% on hopes of coronavirus treatment

Stocks in Asia rose in Thursday afternoon trade following positive developments overnight on a potential new treatment for Covid-19.

Stocks in Japan, which returned to trade following a Wednesday holiday, led gains regionally. The Nikkei 225 jumped 2.9% as shares of robot maker Fanuc soared about 8%. The Topix index also rose 1.81%.

Mainland Chinese stocks rose by the afternoon, with the Shanghai composite up 1.3% while the Shenzhen composite added 1.867%.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia also rose 2.25%.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index rose 1.3%.

In corporate earnings, Singapore’s DBS Group posted a 29% plunge year-over-year in its first quarter net profit. The bank’s shares jumped more than 4% by the afternoon.

Markets in Hong Kong and South Korea are closed on Thursday for a holiday.

Investors watched for market reaction to developments overnight regarding the use of Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir as a potential new treatment for Covid-19 patients. 

Gilead Sciences said Wednesday preliminary results of a coronavirus drug trial showed at least 50% of patients treated with a five-day dosage of remdesivir improved and more than half were discharged from the hospital within two weeks.

Later Wednesday, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said NIAID’s remdesivir drug trial, which enrolled about 800 patients, showed “quite good news” and that the drug would set a new standard of care for Covid-19 patients.

Globally, the coronavirus pandemic has infected more then 3.1 million and taken at least 226,771 lives, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University.

China manufacturing data release

On the economic data front, China said manufacturing activity in the country expanded slightly in April. The official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index for April came in at 50.8, as compared to 52.0 in March. PMI readings above 50 signify expansion, while those below that mark indicate contraction. Analysts in a Reuters poll had expected the official manufacturing PMI for April to come in at 51.0.

A subsequent private survey also released on Thursday, on the other hand, showed manufacturing activity in April contracting instead. The Caixin/Markit manufacturing PMI for April came in at 49.4, below expectations of a reading of 50.3 by analysts in a Reuters poll.

Economic data from China have been watched by investors for further clues as to whether the country’s economy is bouncing back after a dismal first quarter GDP print as the country battled the coronavirus outbreak.

Central bank watch

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve pledged Wednesday to keep rates near zero for as long as needed and provide additional help to the economy.

Looking ahead, the European Central Bank (ECB) is also set to announce its interest rate decision at 7:45 p.m. HK/SIN on Thursday.

“I don’t think the market is actually expecting much to come out of the ECB tonight,” Craig Chan, head of global foreign exchange strategy at Nomura, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Thursday.

“We are expecting 20 basis points cut in the deposit rate,” Chan said. “I would also say there is some risk that we could see asset purchases step up as well.”

Oil prices surge

Oil prices were higher in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures gaining 10.47% to $24.90 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also added 14.81% to $17.29 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 99.584 after seeing levels above 100 earlier this week.

The Japanese yen traded at 106.56 per dollar, stronger than levels above 107 seen earlier in the trading week. The Australian dollar was at $0.6557 following its rise from levels below $0.648 seen earlier this week.

— CNBC’s Fred Imbert and Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.

Correction: This report was updated to reflect that South Korea’s markets were closed on Thursday.

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