Asian equity markets were firmly higher on Thursday, propelled by another record close on Wall Street and expectations that the European Central Bank will extend its monetary-stimulus measures.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.3%, while the Nikkei Stock Average gained 0.8% and Korea's Kospi added 1%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was up 0.6%, after briefly reclaiming the 23,000-point mark, and the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.1%.

Asia's stock gains came as major U.S. indexes logged their biggest one-day rally since the November elections, with a 1.6% gain in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and a 1.3% rise in S&P 500 sending both to fresh closing highs.

While there was no specific trigger for the U.S. rally, market participants speculated that large orders in stock futures placed by computer programs may have accelerated buying.

"Despite a lack of triggering data, animal spirits were evident in overnight trading," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

In Asia, gains in commodities stocks helped drive the S&P/ASX 200 to become the best performing Asia-Pacific market so far on Thursday. This followed a surge in iron-ore prices, which tracked the movement of steel prices, to a more-than two-year high. Chinese rebar steel futures had surged nearly 7% on Wednesday.

Among individual resource stocks, Rio Tinto was last up 3.8%, while Fortescue Metals rose 3.3% and BHP Billiton added 1.9%.

In Japan, industrial and financial stocks were leading gains, with equipment maker SMC surging 4.1% and casualty insurer Sompo Holdings rising 3%.

Shares of electronics maker Sharp surged 9.3%, making it the best-performing large-cap Japanese stock, with analysts noting that recent comments by Chief Executive Tai Jeng-wu have raised expectations that the troubled electronics maker is on a firm path to recovery.

Meanwhile, the Korean market was up despite the prospect of early elections in Asia's fourth-largest economy. South Korean President Park Geun-hye is widely expected to be impeached by lawmakers on Friday, amid the country's biggest political scandal in a generation.

Looking ahead, investors will be closely watching the European Central Bank's meeting later Thursday. Most investors and analysts expect at least a six-month extension to the bank's monthly purchase of 80 billion euros ($86 billion) of assets. The ECB will also likely ease its bond-purchase criteria to get around the "running out of bunds" problem, analysts said.

"An extension would be good for risk assets globally," said Bill Bowler, an equity sales trader for Asian equities at Forsyth Barr Asia.

Most Asia-Pacific government bonds strengthened Thursday ahead of the ECB decision, with Australia's 10-year debt yield falling 6.3 basis points to bid at 2.743% and New Zealand's 10-year debt yield down 5 basis points to bid at 3.20%, according to Thomson Reuters. Yields fall as bond prices rise.

Rhiannon Hoyle, Kosaku Narioka, Jonathan Cheng, Carol Chan, Akane Otani and Sam Goldfarb contributed to this article.

Write to Kenan Machado at kenan.machado@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 07, 2016 23:45 ET (04:45 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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