Bernanke comments, earnings drive markets higher

Associated Press
An investor gestures at a private securities company in Shanghai, China, Thursday, July 18, 2013. Asian stocks were mostly higher Thursday, tracking overnight gains in Europe and Wall Street after U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke's suggested stimulus policies may continue for longer than expected. (AP Photo)
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LONDON (AP) — Stocks continued to rise Thursday on the Federal Reserve's promise to extend its stimulus policies if necessary as well as upbeat U.S. economic and corporate earnings reports.

In prepared remarks to lawmakers in Congress, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that the Fed's timetable for reducing its bond purchases was not decided and that the central bank could even boost them if the economy fails to meet expectations.

The Fed wants to see substantial progress in the job market before scaling back its $85 billion a month in purchases of government bonds and other financial assets, he said.

Expectations the Fed might start tapering off its stimulus in September caused market jitters last month. So his clarification this week that he was not pre-committed to a schedule encouraged investors.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of British shares rose 1 percent to close at 6,634.36 while the CAC-40 in France gained 1.4 percent to 3,927.79. Germany's DAX rose 1 percent to 8,337.09

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 was up 0.6 percent at 1,690.44 and the Dow rose 0.7 percent to 15,571.43.

Also supporting markets was news that U.S. jobless claims fell 24,000 last week to 334,000, a sign of steady job gains.

Corporate earnings were mixed. Morgan Stanley shares rose 4.5 percent, boosting financial stocks, after its second-quarter profits beat expectations. IBM also impressed, but Nokia shares slid 3 percent as its sales continued to drop sharply.

Google and Microsoft are due to announce results later. The focus will also return to Bernanke, who will continue his testimony to the Senate.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.3 percent to 14,808.50, its highest close in two months, but gains elsewhere in the region were much more modest. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 4,993.40. Shares in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India and Singapore were also higher.

China-related shares were mostly lower, reflecting gloom over news earlier in the week that the world's second-largest economy posted its second straight quarter of slower economic growth in April-June.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed early gains to fall into negative territory, losing 0.1 percent to 21,345.22. Benchmarks in mainland China and Taiwan also were lower. The Shanghai Composite dropped 1.1 percent to 2,023.40.

"The slowdown of growth in China is still the main concern," said Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

In other markets, the benchmark crude contract for August delivery was up $1.44 at $107.92 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 48 cents on Wednesday.

The euro fell to $1.3080 from $1.3117 late Wednesday. The dollar rose to 100.60 yen from 99.62 yen.

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Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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