Uniqlo Takes over Asia, China Droughts Send Water Companies Surging, Macau Casinos Score Big


Markets in Asia rose Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index climbed 1.2% to 10,847 and China's Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.9% to 3,050. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index advanced 1.7%, ending the day at 21,384.

In Tokyo, Fast Retailing, owner of the Uniqlo shops, surged 2.2%. The affordable and stylish clothing company is on its way to becoming Asia's homegrown answer to Gap. The shops have been a phenomenon in Japan, and now the company says its global sales may surpass its domestic sales in the next four years, according to Bloomberg. That it's managed to create a market for low-priced, brightly colored, mix-n-match outfits in a country where high-style has always meant high-price is amazing in itself. Not fans of bargain shopping, some Japanese are known to live off Cup Noodles in order to afford the latest Chanel bag.

Now Fast Retailing CEO Tadashi Yanai, who features as number 89 on Forbes list of billionaires, has big plans for the discount clothing chain. Already 862 stores strong, he plans to add 90 more shops by August. And he has his sights set on China, where Bloomberg reports 55 will open, taking advantage of shoppers who love a bargain and whose finances were barely touched by the global meltdown.

While department store sales are down overall in Japan, today, shares in some of the biggies rose: Marui Group climbed 2.4%, Aeon rose 2.1%. UNY and Takashimaya both added 0.7% while clothing retailer J. Front advanced 0.9%.

In other sectors, consumer lenders gained ground today. Acom soared 8.6%, Orix Corp surged 7.2% and Promise advanced 5.2%.

The Nikkei was also boosted by a 1.3% hike on the London Metal Exchange and a rise in crude oil futures. Nippon Mining Holdings soared 3.7%, Nippon Oil rose 3.8%, oil exploration company Inpex gained 2.2%.

In China, droughts in the country's farming areas pushed shares of Qianjiang Water Resources Development up to the 10% daily limit. The worst drought in half a century has hit provinces including Yunnan and Sichuan, focusing investors attention on water distribution and equipment companies. Today water-pump maker Zhejiang Leo advanced 6.7% in Shenzhen and in Shanghai, Xiangtan Electric Manufacturing added 3.6%.

Mining companies also gained in China. Jiangxi Copper spiked 2.7% and Zijin Mining Group rose 1.7%.

In Hong Kong, real estate companies fared well on the Fed's decision to keep borrowing rates super low, a move that is usually mirrored in the territory as the Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar: Sun Hung Kai Property rocketed up 4%, Hang Lung soared 3.7%, Sino Land gained 2.7%, Cheung Kong rose 2.4% and Henderson Land scored a 2.3% increase.

In reaction to new plans to limit the ever-expanding gambling mecca on the tiny island of Macau, casino operators surged today. SJM soared 7%, Galaxy Entertainment surged 6.9% and Sands China was up 5.7%. If the HK real estate market is looking a bit too much like a gamble these days, casinos just might be a more promising bet.