South Korea stocks jump 2%; China manufacturing unexpectedly expands in March

Stocks in Asia Pacific traded higher on Tuesday morning as China’s official manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index for March came in better than expected.

Mainland Chinese stocks were higher, with the Shanghai composite up more than 0.5% while the Shenzhen composite added 1.177%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index also gained 1.44%.

China on Tuesday said its official manufacturing PMI for March came in at 52.0, indicating an expansion and defying expectations of a contraction. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the figure to come in at 45 for the month. PMI readings below 50 signify a contraction, while figures above that level indicate an expansion.

In February, the official manufacturing PMI plunged to a record low of 35.7 as the country continued to grapple with containing the coronavirus outbreak as well as returning to work after an extensive lockdown. Investors have been watching economic data releases from China for clues on the scale of the economic impact from the outbreak, which was first reported in the country. 

Over in South Korea, where stocks led gains among the region’s major markets, the Kospi rose 2.1% while the Kosdaq index gained 4.29%

Australian shares were also higher, with the S&P/ASX 200 up 0.74%. The moves came after the index got off to a flying start to the week and surged by 7% on Monday.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 saw more muted gains and added 0.78%, while the Topix index advanced 0.29%.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index traded 1.42% higher.

Oil prices rebound

Oil prices rebounded from the previous day’s plunge in the morning of Asian trading hours on Tuesday. International benchmark Brent crude futures gained 2.5% to $23.33 per barrel. U.S. crude futures were also up 7.32% to $21.56 per barrel.

The moves came after oil prices plummeted Monday to levels not seen in almost two decades — Brent fell 8.7% to settle at $22.76 per barrel, a price last seen in 2002. U.S. crude fell 6.6%, or $1.42, to settle at $20.09, its lowest level since February 2002.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 99.286, below levels above 100 seen last week.

The Japanese yen traded at 108.48 per dollar after touching an earlier high of 107.72. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6188, still above levels below $0.6 seen last week.

⁠— CNBC’s Pippa Stevens and Huileng Tan contributed to this report.

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