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Hong Kong shares soar 9% on China pledge to support economy

TOKYO — Hong Kong’s share benchmark, the Hang Seng index, soared 9% on Wednesday after a senior Chinese official said Beijing would provide more support for the slowing Chinese economy.

The surge was a reprieve from recent heavy selling of Chinese technology companies and other pressures that had taken the Hang Seng to six-year lows.

Officials at a Cabinet meeting in Beijing promised to “invigorate the economy” with “supporting measures” for the struggling real estate and other steps, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

At the meeting led by Vice Premier Liu He, President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser, Cabinet officials called on government agencies to issue other policies that are “favorable to the market,” Xinhua said.

It also said that talks between Chinese and U.S. regulators on resolving a dispute over rules governing foreign companies listed on U.S. markets had made progress.

The Hang Seng gained 9% to 20,079.61. The Shanghai Composite index added 3.5% to 3,170.71.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding’s shares jumped 23.6%. Tencent Holdings, operator of the popular WeChat message service, surged 23% and livestreaming site Kuaishou Technology added 31.4%.

Various factors contributed to the rally, including comments by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggesting there was still some reason to be optimistic negotiations might yet yield an agreement with the Russian government.

Yet, Russia escalated its bombardment of the Ukrainian capital and launched new assaults on the port city of Mariupol, making bloody advances on the ground Wednesday as Zelenskyy prepared to make a direct appeal for more help in a rare speech by a foreign leader to the U.S. Congress.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 1.6% to finish at 25,762.01. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 1.1% to 7,175.20. South Korea’s Kospi gained 1.3% to 2,655.46.

At a policy meeting later Wednesday, the Fed is expected to increase its key short-term rate by 0.25 percentage points. That would be the first increase since 2018, pulling it off its record low of nearly zero, and likely the start to a series of hikes.

The Fed is trying to slow the economy enough to tamp down the high inflation sweeping the country while avoiding triggering a recession.

Inflation is already at its highest level in generations, and the most recent numbers don’t include the surge in oil prices after Russia invaded Ukraine. The move comes as central banks around the world are preparing to pull the plug on support poured into the global economy after the pandemic struck.

“The ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’ allusion is not mean to invoke despair. Rather, it’s meant to convey a sense of inevitability of the Fed’s tightening cycle ahead,” said Tan Boon Heng of Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 gained 2.1% to 4,262.45. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.8% to 33,544.34, and the Nasdaq rose 2.9% to 12,948.62. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.4% to 1,968.97.

Renewed COVID-19 worries in some regions plus a lengthy list of other concerns have caused wild hour-to-hour swings in markets in recent weeks. The war in Ukraine has pushed prices for oil, wheat and other commodities the region produces sharply higher. That’s raising the threat that already high inflation will persist and combine with a potentially stagnating economy.

U.S. data released Tuesday showed inflation was still very high at the wholesale level last month, but at least it wasn’t accelerating. Producer prices were 10% higher in February from a year earlier, the same rate as in January. On a month-to-month basis, inflation rose 0.8% in February from January, versus forecasts for 0.9%. That’s a slowdown from January’s 1.2% month-over-month increase.

Benchmark U.S. crude slid earlier Tuesday but then steadied. It gained $2.13 to $98.57 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

A barrel of U.S. crude dropped 6.4% to settle at $96.44 on Monday. It had briefly topped $130 last week when worries about disruptions to supplies because of the war in Ukraine were at their height.

Brent crude, the international pricing standard, added $2.89 to $102.80 per barrel.

Overnight, the reprieve on fuel prices helped a wide variety of stocks. Airlines led the way after several raised their forecasts for revenue this quarter. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines all soared 8% or more.

In other developments, trading in nickel was due to resume Wednesday on the London Metal Exchange, just over a week after it was suspended when the price of the metal skyrocketed to over $100,000 per ton.

Russia is the world’s No. 3 producer of nickel. Its price and that of many other commodities has surged on speculation over possible disruptions to supplies as Russia contends with widening economic sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar inched down to 118.29 Japanese yen from 118.31 yen. The euro cost $1.0973, up from $1.0955.

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AP Business Writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed.


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