Asia stocks up on Japan optimism; Europe opens up

Asian stocks up hopes that Japan's new leaders will help economy; Europe rises in early trade

Associated Press
Stocks lower ahead of US 'fiscal cliff' talks
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A woman walks by an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012. Asian markets have risen amid optimism that Japan’s new leaders will stimulate its sluggish economy. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

BEIJING (AP) -- Asian and European stock markets rose Thursday, while and Japan's benchmark index hit its highest level in more than a year optimism a new government in Japan will stimulate the country's sluggish economy.

Oil gained in Asian trading to stay above $91 a barrel as markets in Hong Kong and Australia reopened after a two-day Christmas break.

Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent to 5,963.21. Germany's DAX added 0.2 percent to 7,651.51. France's CAC-40 rose 0.7 percent to 3,676.60. Wall Street braced for a flat opening, with Dow Jones industrial futures marginally lower at 13,046. S&P 500 futures rose less than 0.1 percent at 1,413.90.

Earlier in Asia, Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 0.9 percent to close at 10,322.98, its highest finish since March 2011. That added to Wednesday's 1.5 percent gain and took the Nikkei to a 22 percent increase for the year. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.4 percent to 22,619.78. South Korea's Kospi added nearly 0.3 percent to 1,987.35.

Incoming Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for more public works spending to reinvigorate the economy. He wants the Bank of Japan to raise its inflation target from 1 to 2 percent to drag the country out of two decades of deflation, or steadily declining prices that have deadened economic activity.

To help exporters, Abe also has urged the central bank to take steps to dampen Japan's yen. A strong currency has hurt big exporters such as Toyota by making Japanese products more expensive overseas.

"The message from Japan is clear at the moment, the incoming government will do everything in its power to weaken the yen and stimulate the economy," Australia's IG Markets said in a report.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Australia also posted gains.

Mainland Chinese shares lost ground, with the Shanghai Composite Index falling 0.6 percent to 2,205.90 while the Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.8 percent to 862.82. Shares in wine producers and aerospace-related companies led the gains.

"The losses were a technical correction after the recent gains" said Xu Xiaoyu, an analyst at China Investment Securities, based in Beijing. Kweichow Moutai Co., China's largest maker of "baijiu" liquor, gained 1.1 percent. Sichuan Tuopai Shede Wine Co. gained 6 percent following earlier losses.

"Upcoming festivals might boost demand," Xu said.

On Wednesday, U.S. stocks fell for a third session as trading resumed after the Christmas break. Disappointing holiday sales weighed heavy on retail companies and investors worried about the impending "fiscal cliff" — automatic tax and spending cuts due to take effect if the White House and Congress fail to agree on a budget deal. Economists worry that could push the economy into recession.

Benchmark oil for February delivery rose 13 cents to $91.11 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $2.37 to finish at $90.98 per barrel in thin post-Christmas trading in New York.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3266 from $1.3220 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar gained to 85.74 yen from 85.63 yen.

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AP researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.

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