Stock Market Today: Japan's Nikkei Tops 40,000, As Investors Await China Political Meeting

A person walks in front of an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm Monday, March 4, 2024, in Tokyo. Japan's Nikkei 225 share benchmark has topped 40,000 for the first time as strong demand for technology shares keeps pushing the index higher.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
A person walks in front of an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm Monday, March 4, 2024, in Tokyo. Japan's Nikkei 225 share benchmark has topped 40,000 for the first time as strong demand for technology shares keeps pushing the index higher.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stocks were mostly higher Monday ahead of China’s top annual political gathering, while Japan’s benchmark surpassed the 40,000 level for the first time.

U.S. futures fell and oil prices were mixed.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 share index rose to 40,314.64 but fell back slightly. It was up 0.5% to 40,150.00 by early afternoon. It followed an advance last week on Wall Street that pushed U.S. stocks to new heights.

Shares in Japan have tracked gains in other markets driven by expectations for strong demand for technology associated with artificial intelligence. They’ve also been boosted by the Bank of Japan's easy credit policy, which is pumping money into the economy to help support growth, and by a weak Japanese yen, which has inflated profits of exporters.

This week the spotlight is mainly on China's National People’s Congress, the country's most important political event. It opens Tuesday, and investors are watching for updates on specific policies to help support the slowing economy, resolve troubles in the property market and stabilize financial markets.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.2% to 16,558.00 and the Shanghai Composite index rose 0.2% to 3,033.63.

Elsewhere in Asia, the Kospi in Seoul surged 1.2% to 2,672.94 after a private-sector survey showed the country’s manufacturing activity expanded at a slower pace in February compared to the month before, as overseas demand weakened.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.1% at 7,598.00, and in Bangkok the SET edged 0.1% lower.

On Friday, the S&P 500 rose 0.8%, to 5,137.08 a day after setting an all-time high. It has climbed in 16 of the last 18 weeks because of excitement about cooling inflation and a mostly resilient U.S. economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.2%, to 39,087.38. Technology stocks led the market, and the Nasdaq composite jumped 1.1%, to 16,274.94 a day after surpassing its prior record set in 2021.

Dell Technologies helped drive the stock market after jumping 31.6%. It reported stronger profit and revenue for the latest quarter than analysts expected, highlighting demand for its AI-optimized servers.

A crescendo of demand for artificial-intelligence technology has helped catapult stocks higher over the last year. Dell has more than tripled in the last 12 months, while Nvidia has surged more than 260%.

The mood was much darker in the banking industry, where New York Community Bancorp tumbled 25.9%. It warned investors last week that it found weakness in how it internally reviews loans, caused by ineffective oversight, risk assessment and monitoring activities.

Much attention has been on smaller regional banks after last year’s crisis in the industry led to the collapses of several lenders.

While NYCB faces many issues that are specific to it, the worry has been that banks across the industry face challenges from loans made for real-estate projects.

They’re under pressure in part because the Federal Reserve has hiked its main interest rate to the highest level since 2001, which can squeeze the financial system. The hope has been that the Fed will cut interest rates several times this year to offer some relief for banks and the broader economy.

The Fed has indicated it may do so if inflation continues to cool decisively toward its 2% target. But a string of stronger reports on the economy than expected have made traders push back forecasts for when the cuts could begin. The hope now is that the Fed could start in June after traders shelved earlier expectations for March.

In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 4.20% from 4.25% late Thursday.

In other trading, U.S. benchmark crude oil lost 2 cents to $79.95 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 11 cents to $83.66 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar rose to 150.16 Japanese yen from 150.08 yen. The euro was up to $1.0845 from $1.0841.