Asia stocks rise as Fed official backs easy policy

Associated Press
A visitor takes a picture of an electronic stock board on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo, Wednesday, May 22, 2013. Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday after investor confidence was boosted by a Federal Reserve official's comments that the U.S. central bank should stick with its super-easy monetary policy. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
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BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday after investor confidence was boosted by a Federal Reserve official's comments that the U.S. central bank should stick with its super-easy monetary policy.

Regional Fed chief James Bullard said in a speech Tuesday that the Fed should continue its monthly $85 billion in bond purchases, which drives down interest rates and thus encourages lending and spending, to help spur the U.S. economic recovery.

That helped put Wall Street back on positive footing Tuesday and hours later boosted Asian shares, since some of that easy money inevitably washes up in stocks.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 1.8 percent to 15,653.16, its highest intraday level in more than five years. The Bank of Japan concluded a two-day policy meeting without any changes to its aggressively monetary easing stance, as expected, and said the world's third-largest economy is showing signs of picking up.

South Korea's Kospi rose 0.7 percent to 1,994.73. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines rose. Mainland Chinese shares fell.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3 percent to 5,164.90 after a survey showing a drop in consumer confidence hit banking stocks particularly hard. Hong Kong's Hang Seng, where trading was suspended in the morning due to bad weather, fell 0.2 percent to 23,342.09.

Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said traders will be monitoring developments later Wednesday that revolve around the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Fed will release minutes from its most recent policy meeting, and its chairman Ben Bernanke will testify before Congress to discuss his outlook for the U.S. economy.

Spooner said he expects Bernanke, who recently indicated that the Fed was keeping its options open depending on how the economy improves, to stay on message.

"If he reiterates that and tends to remind people that the Fed clearly has not made any decisions or isn't close to any tapering off unless conditions improve further," Spooner said, "it would be supportive of stocks."

Among individual stocks, Sony Corp. surged 6.7 percent after news reports said the electronics maker was considering a proposal to spin off its movie and music business, Kyodo News said. Australia & New Zealand Banking Group fell 1.3 percent.

Wall Street posted new highs Tuesday in the aftermath of remarks by Bullard, the Fed official. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.3 percent to close at 15,387.58, a record. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.2 percent to 1,669.16, also an all-time high. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.2 percent to 3,502.12.

Benchmark oil for July delivery was down 52 cents to $95.66 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 55 cents to close at $96.16 a barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2912 from $1.2900 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar was little changed at 102.56 yen.

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