Aiding the overnight rally, ECB chief Mario Draghi hinted that new stimulus may be forthcoming at the central bank’s meeting in March.
“Monetary easing speculation is providing a boost for Asian markets today. Draghi’s intimation that the ECB may be forced to ease further at their March meeting, as well as fomenting expectations that the Bank of Japan may ease further at their meeting next week, are all supporting the rally,” said Angus Nicholson, market analyst at spreadbetter IG, in a note Friday. “The bigger question everyone in the markets is asking is whether we have seen the bottom. In my opinion, the short answer is no.”
Some are skeptical that the ECB has much to offer markets. Uwe Parpart, managing director and head of research at Reorient Financial Markets told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” the ECB does not have much ammunition to do anything drastic to set markets back on track.
The ECB can perhaps cut the deposit rate by another 10 or 20 basis points, according to Parpart, who added if the central bank chose to again talk about quantitative easing, without actually following through with actions, markets will not be impressed. “They will actually have to increase the amount of buying, which they did not do in December.”
Despite the out-sized rally Friday, memories of the global rout that pushed several regional markets into bear territory this year have not entirely faded into a TGIF sentiment. “The rally in risk assets is a selling opportunity,” Tim Condon, head of research for Asia at ING Financial, said in a note Friday.
Major indexes post gains over 1%
In Japan, the Nikkei jumped by 941.27 points, or 5.88 percent, to 16,958.53. Despite the surge, the index remains down 18.73 percent from the 52-week closing high set in June 2015.
Across the Korean Strait in Seoul, the Kospi closed up 38.90 points, or 2.11 percent, at 1,879.43.
Down Under, the ASX 200 index added 50.39 points, or 1.04 percent, to close at 4,914.40, buoyed by sharp gains in the energy and materials sectors, up 3.83 and 2.98 percent respectively.
China’s Shanghai composite and Shenzhen composite indexes retraced losses in the afternoon to close higher. The Shanghai composite tacked on 36.12 points, or 1.25 percent, to finish at 2,916.60, while the Shenzhen added 26.34 points, or 1.46 percent, to 1,827.33.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index advanced 3.04 percent.
Pressure remains on oil
Oil prices saw temporary respite during overnight trade, despite bearish data from Stateside showing further build up in oil inventories. The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) gained 4.16 percent and the international benchmark Brent increasing by 5.1 percent. But prices remain at lows not seen in more than a decade.
In Asian trading hours, WTI was up 1.19 percent at $29.88 a barrel, after reaching a session high of $29.99 earlier, while Brent gained 1.68 percent to $29.74 a barrel.
Energy plays around the region climbed, with Australia’s Santos among the biggest gainers, rallying 10.16 percent by market close.
Earlier, Santos issued its fourth-quarter activity report showing production level, sales and revenue declined over the same period in the previous year. However, its full-year production for 2015 was at 57.7 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe), the highest since 2007. The company also moved to reassure investors over its financial health.
Markets also ignored a late morning report that said ratings agency Standard & Poor’s revised Santos’ long-term senior unsecured credit rating from BBB to BBB-. The company still maintains its overall investment-grade rating.
Major Asian movers
Japan’s Sharp trimmed gains to close up 3.13 percent, after climbing as much as 11.71 percent earlier, following a Nikkei report that said the company’s main creditors may accept a rescue plan from a Japanese government-tied fund.
On Thursday, a Wall Street Journal report, citing sources familiar with the matter, said Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn, best known for assembling iPhones, made a 625 billion yen ($5.3 billion) offer to take over the company, including its substantial levels of debt.
Representatives from Foxconn told CNBC via email that they do not comment on speculation. Taiwan-listed Foxconn shares were up 1.24 percent.
Other Japanese exporters also gained, with Toyota surging 6.73 percent, Honda tacking on 5.98 percent and Sony up 4.03 percent. The yen weakened overnight against the dollar, with the pair trading at 118.02 during Asian hours. A weaker yen boosts exporters’ overseas earnings when translated back into the Japanese currency.
Australian winemaker Treasury Wine gained 17.47 percent after the company said late Thursday that pre-tax earnings in the six months to December are expected to be between $140 million and $150 million, which will beat the market expectations of $120 million. Strong demand from Asia helped to boost its earnings, the company said.
Private health insurer Medibank saw its shares surge 11.61 percent after it raised its profit expectations for the year to June. Reports said the company expects an operating profit of more than $470 million for its health insurance division – up by about $100 million.
South Korea’s blue chips stocks also rallied, with heavyweight Samsung Electronics gaining 3.27 percent.