HONG KONG: Most Asian markets rose on Wednesday (May 24) following a positive lead from the US and Europe, while Shanghai recovered from early selling fuelled by Moody's decision to cut China's credit rating on worries about its growing debt mountain.
The ratings agency said its downgrade on the world's number two economy was prompted by the likelihood of a "material rise" in debt throughout the economy and as potential growth slows.
Beijing has tried to address a toxic brew of unregulated and risky lending, which is increasingly seen as a threat to global financial stability.
But analysts are unsure about leaders' willingness to push on with the reforms since huge borrowing has been a key driver of the growth on which the Communist Party relies for political legitimacy.
China's economy grew last year at its slowest pace in a quarter of a century and there are expectations it will continue to ease in coming years.
"It is a psychological blow that China will not take kindly to and absolutely speaks to the rising financial pressures in China," Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC School of Business at Peking University in Shenzhen, told Bloomberg News.
The ratings cut was the first by Moody's since late 1989 when it assessed the impact of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on China's trade with the world.
Shanghai fell one percent early on but reversed the losses to end up 0.1 per cent, while the yuan also bounced back from initial losses against the dollar. Hong Kong rebounded to end 0.1 per cent higher.
But elsewhere, investors tracked a Wall Street gain. Tokyo finished 0.7 per cent higher while Sydney put on 0.2 per cent, Singapore gained 0.3 per cent and Seoul added 0.2 per cent.
Wellington and Taipei were each comfortably higher.
US stocks rose for the fourth straight session after Donald Trump's administration unveiled a 2018 budget that includes swingeing cuts to services over 10 years but also a huge rise in military spending.
There was little carry-over from Monday's terror attack in Manchester that killed 22 people including children at a concert. Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA, said in a note "the initial market response is subdued on the surface, but concerns about future attacks remain elevated".
On currency markets the euro held up against the dollar as uncertainty about future US policy - linked to recent crises that have hit Trump - combined with upbeat eurozone data, including Tuesday's economic growth and jobs creation. The figures also helped push Paris and Frankfurt higher.
Attention turns later in the day to the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's most recent policy meeting. Investors hope to get a handle on its plans for interest rate rises following a number of weak indicators lately.
Among the weak points is inflation, which Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari described as going in the wrong direction.
In early trade, London was flat while Frankfurt and Paris each shed 0.2 per cent.
- Key figures around 0820 GMT -
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.7 per cent at 19,742.98 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.1 per cent at 25,428.50 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 per cent at 3,064.08 (close)
London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,484.12
Euro/dollar: DOWN at US$1.1177 from US$1.1181 at 2100 GMT
Dollar/yen: UP at ¥111.90 from ¥111.82
Pound/dollar: UP at US$1.2972 from US$1.2960
Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 15 cents at US$51.62 per barrel
Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 17 cents at US$54.32 per barrel
New York - Dow: UP 0.2 per cent at 20,937.91 (close)