BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets rose early Wednesday as traders watched the final hours of a cliffhanger U.S. presidential election whose conclusion would allow leaders of the world's biggest economy to focus on issues other than the campaign.
Traders say one of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. is the looming "fiscal cliff," a combination of higher taxes and government spending cuts that automatically takes effect unless Congress acts by Jan. 1. The total impact next year could be as high as $800 billion.
Deciding the election is the first step toward a resolution. President Barack Obama is locked in a tight race with Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Voting took place in the U.S. on Tuesday and a handful of states had reported results by the time Asian markets opened Wednesday.
"Whoever wins will face the colossal task of resolving the looming fiscal cliff but for now markets are hoping for a decisive outcome," Mitul Kotecha of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong wrote in a market commentary.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose less than 0.1 percent to 8,982.29. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 percent to 4,498.20. Markets in Singapore, Taiwan and New Zealand also rose. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.2 percent to 1,923.64.
Investors focusing their attention on the U.S. election are also watching developments in Greece, where a political crisis could derail an austerity package that is required for the country to receive its next batch of bailout funds. Without the money, Greece faces the prospect of going bankrupt this month and possibly leaving the euro.
Investors are also monitoring developments in China ahead of Thursday's opening of the Communist Party congress — the once-in-a-decade forum to name China's top leadership. Although current Vice President Xi Jinping is almost certain to be China's next leader, markets will be looking for hints on how the new leadership plans to tackle the nation's economic slowdown.
Benchmark oil for December delivery fell 74 cents to $87.97 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract jumped $3.06, or 3.5 percent, to finish at $88.71 in New York on Tuesday.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2788 from $1.2817 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell to 80.21 yen from 80.26 yen.