Asia stocks up as Japan gets boost from weaker yen

People walk by an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012. Asian stock markets rose Thursday with the help of Japan's Nikkei 225, which was propelled higher by a weakening yen. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets rose Thursday as a weakening yen propelled Japan's benchmark higher. A new bond-buying program by the U.S. Federal Reserve and commitment to keep interest rates low also soothed investor nerves about the state of the world's biggest economy.

Following a two-day policy meeting, the Fed said Wednesday it will keep spending $85 billion a month on bond purchases to drive down long-term borrowing costs and stimulate economic growth. The Fed will spend $45 billion a month on long-term Treasury purchases to replace "Operation Twist," a previous bond-purchase program of an equal size. And it will keep buying $40 billion a month in mortgage bonds.

Those purchases, and the Fed's revamped commitment to keep interest rates low until unemployment falls to a more normal level, are intended to spur borrowing and spending in an economy still growing only modestly since the financial crisis of 2008.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index jumped 1.8 percent to 9,755.82 as the yen sank to an eight-month low against the dollar, a boost for Japan's export-reliant economy. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was nearly unchanged at 22,503. South Korea's Kospi added 0.7 percent to 1,990.08. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained less than 0.1 percent at 4,583.90.

Besides a spur in borrowing, the Fed's drive to cut rates also induces investors to shift money out of low-yielding bonds and into stocks, analysts said.

"The long-term yields will remain low, so this is definitely a good thing for the U.S. economy, and it's also a positive sign for the Hong Kong stock market. We can clearly see capital inflows to Hong Kong in the past month," said Dickie Wong, executive director of research at Kingston Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong.

"Investors are looking for other places to put money," Wong said. "If you put your money into a savings account, there's no interest at all. For investors in Hong Kong, there is a hunger for yield."

Wall Street finished little changed despite the Fed's announcement as critical budget negotiations in Washington appear to have stalled.

Without a budget agreement between President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers, a combination of steep automatic tax hikes and government spending cuts will go into effect in 2013, threatening to throw the U.S. economy into recession.

Even if an agreement can be reached, the halting pace of negotiations is jeopardizing chances that it could be written into proper legislative form and passed through both House and Senate before the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.02 percent to 13,245.45. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.04 percent to 1,428.48. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.3 percent to 3,013.81

Greece is also in focus after the country's debt management agency said a bond buyback auction had been completed.

The agency said Wednesday that the country will buy back €31.9 billion ($41.5 billion) of its bonds, a key part of a package of measures designed to get the country's mountainous debt back to sustainable levels over the next decade.

The successful buyback deal was a major requirement before Greece could be granted a long-delayed installment of its international bailout funds. Athens expects the €34.4 billion payment to be approved by its creditors Thursday.

Benchmark crude for January delivery was down 19 cents to $86.58 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 98 cents to close at $86.77 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3083 from $1.3063 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 83.56 yen from 83.20 yen.


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