SYDNEY (MarketWatch) � Asia stocks climbed Thursday, the last day of the month, with investors keying into comments from the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve emphasizing an ongoing commitment to monetary stimulus.
Hong Kong�s Hang Seng Index HK:HSI �advanced 0.9%, while the Shanghai Composite Index CN:000001 �climbed 0.4%.
Japan�s Nikkei Stock Average JP:100000018 �rose 2%, South Korea�s Kospi KR:SEU �advanced 1.1%, and Australia�s S&P/ASX 200 index AU:XJO �moved up 0.7%.
On the last day of the month, Japan, Korea and Australia were showing February gains of more than 2.9% each, but Chinese markets lagged, with Hong Kong the worst performer � down 4.1%.Reuters
Asia�s advance on Thursday came after U.S. stocks ended with sharp gains Wednesday, helped by upbeat data on the housing market.
Additionally, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke�s second day of testimony further reassured markets that the Fed�s bond-buying program wouldn�t decline by much anytime soon. Read: U.S. stocks surge in best day since Jan. 2
Markets �know global central banks are on their side,� said Barclays Capital strategist Jose Wynne. �Bernanke�s testimony ... suggests the doves are in charge at the Fed.�
Hong Kong-listed banks traded broadly higher, with HSBC Holdings PLC HK:5 �HBC up 2.2%, Bank of Communications Co. HK:3328 �BCMXY rising 1.7%, and Bank of China Ltd. HK:3988 �BACHY �improving by 1.4%.
Property firms, meanwhile, were among the biggest percentage gainers in Hong Kong, with New World Development Co. HK:17 �rallying 3.6% and Sino Land Ltd. HK:83 �higher by 2.8%.
Property firms were also climbing notably on the Chinese mainland, with China Vanke Co. CVKEY �CN:200002 �up 2.4% in Shenzhen, while Gemdale Corp. CN:600383 � rose 1.4% in Shanghai, as did Poly Real Estate Group Co. CN:600048 �.
Deutsche Bank property analyst Tony Tsang said Wednesday�s budget set out by the Hong Kong government contained a commitment to increase the supply of land in Hong Kong, including land reclamation outside Victoria Harbor and opening up new development areas.
Meanwhile, Wynne at Barclays Capital said the Bank of Japan �is likely to meet the market�s high expectations [on policy easing] soon,� with Wynne�s comments coming just before the government formally nominated Haruhiko Kuroda, a monetary dove, as the new central-bank governor Thursday morning. Kuroda�s appointment had been expected.
Efforts by the Japanese government to talk down the yen have seen the dollar gain 6.5% against the Japanese currency since the start of the year.
Japan�s key exporters have seen their share prices improve broadly in tandem with yen weakness, and with the dollar USDJPY �at �92.47 Thursday, just up from �92.34 in late North American trading Wednesday, the gains continued apace Thursday.
Advantest Corp. JP:6857 � ATE �climbed 3.1%, Toshiba Corp. JP:6502 � TOSYY �rose 4.7%, and Tokyo Electron Ltd. JP:8035 � TOELY �gained 2.4%.
Among the auto makers, Toyota Motor Corp. JP:7203 TM added 2.3%. Honda Motor Co. JP:7267 HMC rose 3.2%, and Nissan Motor Co. JP:7201 NSANY advanced 2.2%.Click to Play AIA seeks to tap Asia's middle class
Coming off a highly profitable 2012, life insurer AIA says it is committed to growing in Asia.
All three firms managed to increase production in China during January for the first time since last year�s flare-up of a territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo, the Nikkei business daily reported.
Machinery firm Komatsu Ltd. JP:6301 �KMTUY �rose 4.9% after the Nikkei reported separately that the firm is expected to post an operating profit of more than �300 billion ($3.25 billion) in the fiscal year ending March 2014, with a slide in the yen forecast to lift earnings.
In Australia, energy firms and banks were helping the market to gain, with Woodside Petroleum Ltd. AU:WPL � WOPEF �up 2.2% and banking giant Commonwealth Bank of Australia AU:CBA � CBAUF �higher by 1.6%.
Asset manager Perpetual Ltd. AU:PPT �gained 4.6% after posting a 19% increase in first-half net profit, while retailer Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. AU:HVN �climbed 5.3% after the firm posted a 36% drop in first-half net profit but said it�s seen an uptick in recent sales.
Technology companies were moving higher in South Korean trading, with Samsung Electronics Co. KR:005930 � SSNLF �up 1.6% and rival chip maker SK Hynix Inc. KR:000660 �HXSCL �higher by 1.7%.