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Asian stocks rise after Fed comments

Jan 15 2013 07:34 AFP

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Hong Kong - Asian shares were mostly higher on Tuesday after US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke reassured markets that easing measures were set to stay in place, with Tokyo leading regional bourses higher.

Traders also mulled a warning from US President Barack Obama to Republican rivals not to delay raising the debt ceiling, as the next budget fight took shape in Washington following the battle to avert the "fiscal cliff".

Tokyo put on 1.25% in early trade boosted by the weak yen, which makes exporters' products cheaper, and as dealers hoped for more aggressive easing from the Bank of Japan to lift the world's third-biggest economy.

"The declining yen continues to pull investors off the fence, while earnings expectations from US companies, as well as for a broader global economic rebound, remain relatively firm," said SMBC Nikko Securities general manager of equities Hiroichi Nishi.

Hong Kong was up 0.15% and Shanghai rose 0.39%, adding to strong gains on Monday. Sydney put on 0.16% but Seoul slipped 0.52%.

There was no clear lead from Wall Street, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 0.14%, but the broad-based S&P 500 falling 0.09% and the Nasdaq Composite shedding 0.26%.

Bernanke indicated on Monday, after Asian markets had closed, that the Fed's latest round of quantitative easing would continue.

He told an audience at the University of Michigan that "while we've made some progress there is still quite a ways to go", in comments reported by Dow Jones Newswires.

His comments were a relief to markets, dealers said, after minutes from the December meeting of Fed policymakers showed they were divided over how long the central bank should continue its $85bn-a-month bond-buying programme.

In Washington, the next stage of a drawn-out fiscal battle was taking shape as Obama warned Republican lawmakers against using the debt ceiling as a "bargaining chip".

He said a failure to raise the borrowing limit by late February would sow financial chaos and send markets into a tailspin, adding that: "Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet."

Investors are also optimistic ahead of the release of fourth-quarter growth figures for China on Friday, which it is hoped will confirm that the world's number two economy has picked up following a slowdown, analysts said.

On foreign exchange markets, the dollar remained firm against the yen in early Asian trade, at ¥89.48 against ¥89.45 in New York on Monday afternoon.

The euro fetched ¥119.72 and $1.3379, slightly up from ¥119.65 and $1.3376 in US trade.

Oil prices fell. New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, shed nine cents to $94.05 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for February delivery dipped nine cents to $111.79.

Gold was at $1 671.86 at 03:00 GMT compared with $1 668.39 late on Monday.

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