World markets mostly up on Fed's low rates support

World stock markets mostly up as Bernanke comments, US data outweigh Europe woes

Associated Press
Markets rebound from Italian election fallout
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A currency trader works at a foreign exchange company in Tokyo,Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. In currency markets, the dollar was down 0.7 percent to 91.92 yen. But the yen, which has fallen by about 20 percent in recent weeks, is still much weaker than it was for most of last year. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- World stock markets mostly rose Wednesday after the Federal Reserve chief played down risks from low interest rate policies, offsetting worries that Italy's indecisive election result will rekindle Europe's debt crisis.

The Asian heavyweight, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index was the rare loser as the yen strengthened against the U.S. dollar following several months of weakness that boosted exporters. The Nikkei fell 1.3 percent to 11,253.97.

Other Asian markets gained ground. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.3 percent to 22,577.01 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.2 percent to 2,004.04. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.7 percent to 5,036.60. Shares in mainland China, Taiwan and Indonesia also rose.

European markets stabilized after diving the day before on Italy's indecisive election result. The FTSE 100 index of leading British companies was up 0.3 percent to 6,292.06 and Germany's DAX was up 0.1 percent to 7,607.16. France's CAC 40 rose 0.3 percent to 3,634.03.

U.S. stocks were poised to move marginally higher. Dow futures were up 0.1 percent at 13,873.00 and broader S&P 500 futures rose 0.1 percent to 1,493.60.

In testimony to Congress on Tuesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke expressed confidence that the central bank's low-rate policies currently pose little risk of causing runaway inflation or a stock market bubble. That eased recent jitters the Fed would start to withdraw its super easy monetary policy.

U.S. economic indicators also gave Asian markets a lift. Home sales rose to the highest level in more than four years last month and American consumers showed confidence for the first time in three months in February.

"Asian markets held up well after U.S. stock markets showed little impact to Italy's election results," said Kwak Joong-bo, a Seoul-based analyst at Samsung Securities.

Samsung Electronics Co., the world's largest maker of memory chips, televisions and mobile phones, closed flat while Hyundai Motor Co. climbed 0.7 percent. Taiwan-based phone maker HTC Corp. added 0.2 percent. In Japan, electronics firms led the decline. Panasonic Corp. fell 1.8 percent and Sharp Corp. was down 1.3 percent.

Yet stock market gains in Asia remained modest, showing that investors have not fully regained their appetite for risky assets ahead of looming automatic spending cuts due to start Friday in the U.S.

And with Italy emerging from elections on Tuesday with no clear winner, there are lingering uncertainties about the fate of deficit and debt reduction measures in one of Europe's biggest economies.

The Italian election result drove markets in Europe markedly lower. If Italian parties fail to form a governing coalition, new elections would be required, causing more uncertainty and a leadership vacuum.

In currency markets, the euro was trading at $1.3090. The dollar weakened 0.5 percent to 91.65 yen.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 37 cents to $93 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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