Asia stocks up as US small business mood improves

Asian stock markets mostly up on the heels of improving small business sentiment in the US

Associated Press
Asia stocks mixed as Wall St. ignores euro gloom
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Passersby are reflected on the electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Wednesday, May 15, 2013. Enthusiasm on Wall Street sparked by another positive report on the U.S. economy helped push most Asian stock markets higher Wednesday. Japan's Nikkei 225 index surged 2.3 percent to 15,096.97. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Enthusiasm on Wall Street sparked by another positive report on the U.S. economy helped push most Asian stock markets higher Wednesday.

The National Federation of Independent Business reported a slight improvement in confidence among small business owners in the U.S. in April. That helped boost the Dow Jones industrial average to close at a record high Tuesday.

"A combination of further improvement of economic performance and low inflation in the US should keep risk appetite buoyant," said analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong in an email commentary.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index surged 1.9 percent to 15,041.95. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.7 percent to 23,079.31. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia also rose.

South Korea's Kospi dipped less than 0.1 percent to 1,967.92 while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.7 percent to 5,182.50.

Good economic data aside, stocks are also benefiting from the economic stimulus from the Federal Reserve and other global central banks.

Under a program called "quantitative easing," the Fed has bought hundreds of billions of dollars of bonds, pushing up their prices and sending their yields lower. That makes stocks more attractive to investors than bonds and keeps interest rates low throughout the economy, encouraging investment and spending.

"Quantitative easing will not ease in the next two or three years," said Dickie Wong, executive director of research at Kingston Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong. "Quantitative easing is everywhere, in the U.S., Japan and Europe. Money depreciates so it gives some kind of boost to the stock market."

Also helping to shore up the mood were figures, released Tuesday, showing industrial production among the 17 countries that use the euro rose a better-than-expected 1 percent in March. The first estimate of the euro currency region's gross domestic product in the first three months is due for release Wednesday.

Among individual stocks, Australian-based mining giant BHP Billiton fell 2.1 percent after the company's new chief executive, Andrew Mackenzie, outlined plans to slash capital spending by nearly 20 percent in order to maximize returns on investment and improving cash flow.

Japan's Isuzu Motors Ltd. soared 21 percent a day after reporting a strong recovery in its earnings. Sony Corp. was up nearly 11 percent after Daniel Loeb, the U.S. hedge fund manager renowned for shaking up Yahoo Inc., proposed that Sony sell up to 20 percent of its entertainment business. Sony has rebuffed the idea.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.8 percent, to 15,215.25. The S&P 500 index jumped 1 percent, to 1,650.34. Both closed at all-time highs after stalling on Monday. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.7 percent, to 3,462.61.

Benchmark oil for June delivery rose was up 11 cents to $94.32 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped 96 cents to close at $94.21 a barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2932 from $1.2937 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell slightly to 102.20 yen from 102.24 yen.

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