Asian stock markets eke out slight gains

Asian stock markets eke out slight gains as US Federal Reserve policymakers prepare to meet

Associated Press
Asian stock markets eke out slight gains
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A man looks at an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Monday, July 29, 2013. Asian stock markets fell Monday as traders await a packed schedule of data releases this week in the U.S. and a key meeting of the Federal Reserve. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 dropped 2.5 percent to 13,766.09 as the yen continued to reverse from its recent fall. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets eked out slight gains as traders refrained from big moves ahead of a meeting of the U.S. central bank that starts later Tuesday.

The Federal Reserve is not likely to announce any policy changes at the conclusion of its two-day meeting, but markets will be on the lookout for hints of an expiry date for the Fed's massive stimulus program.

"Apparently investors are in no mood to place any large bets ahead of the conclusion of the ... meeting on Wednesday but prefer to stay on the sidelines," Anthony Lam of Credit Agicole CIB in Hong Kong said in a market commentary. "As such markets will likely trade in relatively tight ranges for the day."

The Fed is currently buying $85 billion in Treasury and mortgage bonds a month in a move that has kept long-term rates near record lows and supported economic recovery. The program has been a boost to stock markets, since low interest rates make equities and commodities a more attractive investment.

Economic data this week could go a long way to determining when the central bank begins to reduce its monetary stimulus. Many in the markets think the Fed could start paring back its stimulus program as early as September.

Japan's benchmark index recovered some of the territory lost during Monday's plunge. The Nikkei 225 index jumped 1.4 percent to 13,851.60 despite a drop in industrial output for June. The Economy Ministry said manufacturing slipped 3.3 percent from the month before in June and was 4.8 percent lower than a year before.

While the data underscored the fragility of Japan's economic recovery, it also could provide further argument in favor of the aggressive steps taken by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to rejuvenate the moribund economy, analysts said. His "Abenomics" policies employ aggressive monetary easing to fight deflation and higher government spending to jump-start an economy stuck in neutral for decades.

"It's probably not a bad thing that industrial production fell. It gives more justification for Abenomics," said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia.

Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi advanced 0.8 percent to 1,914.48. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.7 percent to 21,997.18. Markets in mainland China, Taiwan and Indonesia also rose. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed about 0.1 percent to 5,042.50.

Benchmark crude for August delivery was down 24 cents to $104.31 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The near-month contract for the benchmark grade fell 15 cents to close at $104.55 a barrel on the Nymex on Monday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3258 from $1.3261 late Monday. The dollar rose to 98.29 yen from 97.90 yen.

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