Asia stocks rise as Fed stance jitters diminish

Asian stock markets gain as jitters diminish over possible Fed stimulus withdrawal

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets mostly rose Monday after expectations for an imminent phasing out of the Federal Reserve's monetary stimulus program began to fade.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.9 percent to 22,061.35. South Korea's Kospi advanced 1 percent to 1,888.25. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 5,136.40. Japan's Nikkei 225 index retreated by 0.3 percent to 13,625.84.

Data released Friday that showed a drop in new home sales raised questions about the strength of the recovery in the U.S. housing market, a key piece of the overall economy. That led to speculation that the Fed might stick with its current monetary stimulus or only reduce it very gradually.

The Fed has been mopping up government bonds and securities to the tune of $85 billion a month. That has held down long-term interest rates and made more money available for lending.

Recent data pointing toward an improved economy has led to speculation that the Fed would begin phasing out the program as early as next month. But the plunge in home sales caused some analysts to rethink their assumption that the Fed would start "tapering" in September.

"I still think it will start but the amount will be minimal," said Andrew Sullivan at Kim Eng Securities in Hong Kong.

Daniel Martin of Capital Economics in Singapore said he believes the market was mostly rebounding from an aggressive sell-off last week and not the housing data released Friday.

"I don't think markets revise their views on tapering from one piece of data," he said. "There will come a point very soon, if it hasn't already happened, when investors realize that tapering won't be some kind of huge disaster."

Among individual stocks, embattled utility Tokyo Electric Power. Co plunged more than 6 percent in the aftermath of a radioactive water leak at the Fukushima Dai-ichi crippled nuclear power station.

Stocks on Wall Street finished higher Friday, driven by a jump in Microsoft shares after CEO Steve Ballmer announced his retirement. The Dow rose 0.3 percent to 15,010.51. The S&P 500 gained 0.4 percent to 1,663.50. The Nasdaq composite climbed 0.5 percent, to 3,657.79

Benchmark oil for October delivery was up 56 cents to $106.98 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.39, or 1.4 percent, to close at $106.42 a barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

The euro fell to $1.3382 from $1.3386 late Friday. The dollar fell to 98.56 yen from 98.71 yen.

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