Analysts divided as markets rebound throughout Asia

Share prices and the value of currencies rose in Asia as brave forecasters declared that the markets had finally bottomed out, although most Asian analysts remained sceptical. Stephen Vines in Hong Kong watched as spring came early to the Far Eastern markets yesterday.

Stock markets which were hit hardest registered the biggest gains. The Thai market gained almost 10 per cent, while the Malaysian market was up 9 per cent as Indonesia, Korea and Singapore made gains of around 6 per cent. Hong Kong did not quite manage a rise of 6 per cent.

Dealers were not able to absorb the news yesterday that European finance ministers plan to invite Michel Camdessus, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ,to a future meeting to discuss the economic crisis. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, told reporters the leading industrialised countries had to "help our Asian colleagues though the currency situation.... We must discuss in the IMF how to avoid this happening again".

In Thailand there were hopes of a relaxation of some of the conditions of the IMF's $17.2bn (pounds 10.5bn) rescue package. Tarrin Nimmanahaeminda, the Finance Minister, is in Washington for talks with senior IMF officials. He is also looking for additional loans to boost the country's depleted reserves.

In Indonesia, where the government appears to be knuckling under to the IMF's strict tutelage despite growing indications of social unrest, the financial markets were buoyed by news that five private Indonesian banks were to merge.

Plans by Bank Internasional Indonesia, one of Indonesia's top three private banks, to merge with Bank Danang Nasional and three smaller banks, were seen as a firm sign the country may be on the way to cleaning up its ailing financial industry. Most Asian markets are reporting an increase in international buying interest. Some of it is bargain-seeking while other international fund managers appear to be covering short-term positions taken after betting on Asian markets declining further but finding them still rising modestly.

Currencies failed to match the performance of the equity markets but most Asian currencies gained against the dollar. The steady rise of the Japanese yen is providing encouragement in the region.

Although the market rises look impressive, the capitalisation of most Asian stock markets has fallen so low that even small scale buying can have a big impact. In Hong Kong, where the market capitalisation is far higher than in most Asian markets outside Japan, individual stocks move erratically on relatively small volumes.

Although the Hong Kong stock market registered a gain of 5.6 per cent, there was a tremor of disquiet following news of the closure of a medium sized stockbroker, CA Pacific Securities. It is part of the listed Capital Asia group. This is much smaller than the failure of Peregrine but provided a reminder of the difficulties local stock brokers are facing.

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