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Asian stocks rise on US hopes; Taiwan jumps 6 pct

Asian stocks rise on US hopes; Taiwan jumps 6 pct

Asian stock markets rose Monday on optimism about emerging strength in the U.S. economy and easing fears about swine flu.
Taiwan's market led the region on hopes for improved business ties with China. The benchmark index surged 360.77 points, or 6 percent, to 6,353.38, building on strong gains last week, when the island's government decided to allow mainland institutional investors to invest in the Taiwan stock market.
South Korea's Kospi index rose 1.6 percent to its highest level this year, led by gains in local banks including KB Financial Group, the holding company for top South Korean lender Kookmin Bank.
Wall Street advanced modestly Friday, but closed out their best one-month performance in nine years amid hopes that the American economy _ a vital export market for Asia _ might be stabilizing.
"There are hopeful signs that the U.S. will weather the financial crisis," said Francis Lun, general manager at Fulbright Securities in Hong Kong.
U.S. manufacturing activity in April posted its best showing since September, when the financial crisis erupted. The performance was driven by a rise in new orders reflecting higher business and consumer spending. U.S. stock index futures were also higher, pointing to more gains Monday.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 604.06 points, or 3.9 percent, to 16,124.94. Australia's key index rose 2.3 percent, while the Shanghai Composite index in mainland China rose 2.3 percent.
"The market's perhaps turned a corner," said Burrell Stockbroking director Richard Herring in Brisbane, Australia. "A few months ago, it was just looking for bad news and now it's looking for more positive news."
Japan's financial markets will be closed Monday through Wednesday for the "Golden Week" holidays.
Taiwan shares soared following the signing of a financial cooperation agreement last week with China that will pave the way for banks in Taiwan and China to set up branches in each other's territory. Taiwan will also allow mainland institutional investors to invest in the Taiwan market for the first time. Individuals, however, will still be barred.
The gains were led by financial and electronics. Cathay Financial Holdings rose 6.9 percent, close to the 7 percent daily limit.
Asia reported no new confirmed cases of swine flu on Sunday, indicating the virus's spread may be slowing, but 350 people remained under quarantine in a downtown Hong Kong hotel as a precaution.
Authorities in Mexico, the epicenter of the disease, indicated that the epidemic was easing, and the World Health Organization decided not to raise its alert, though officials warned people against letting their guard down.
Dr. Richard Besser, acting chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said swine flu is spreading just as easily as regular winter flu, but said he was encouraged that "we're not seeing some of the things in the virus that have been associated in the past with more severe flu."
On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 44.29, or 0.5 percent, to 8,212.41. Broader market measures also posted gains. Dow futures were up 29 points, or 0.4 percent, to 8,210, while S&P futures were up 2.9 points, or 0.3 percent, to 879.
The Federal Reserve said last week that the U.S. recession is starting to ease and signs emerged of a rebound in consumer spending and decline in business inventories even though gross domestic product contracted at a worse-than-expected annual rate of 6.1 percent.
Oil prices were flat, with benchmark crude for June delivery down 3 cents at $53.17 a barrel in Asian electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
In currencies, the dollar rose to 99.47 yen from 99.10 yen late Friday in New York. The euro rose to $1.3322 from $1.3268.
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Associated Press Writer Annie Huang in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.