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Asia stocks rise on heels of new Dow record high

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets mostly gained Wednesday on the heels of a record high on Wall Street as traders waited for the latest Federal Reserve meeting minutes for insight into the U.S. economy's prospects.

Japan's stock market continued to rise on a wave of enthusiasm for the Bank of Japan's aggressive new approach to shaking the world's third-largest economy out of its two decade slump. The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo rose 0.8 percent to 13,292.86.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2 percent to 21,910.15. South Korea's Kospi advanced 0.8 percent to 1,935.74. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.1 percent to 4,971.90.

Investors are looking to the release later in the day of a transcript of last month's Federal Reserve policy meeting for insights into the Fed's latest views on the health of the U.S. economy.

"Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said this week that while the U.S. economy was significantly stronger than it was four years ago, it has yet to recover back to an acceptable state of health," said analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore.

Mainland Chinese stocks fell after China released trade data for March. Some experts said the official figures didn't match up with information available in Hong Kong about goods going in and out of China. The export figure, in particular, raised skepticism.

The General Administration of Customs said export growth slowed to 10 percent from the previous two-month period's 23.6 percent. However, Francis Lun, chief economist of GE Oriental Financial Group in Hong Kong, said the actual figure was probably closer to 2 to 3 percent but was inflated by exporters seeking government rebates.

"Exports on the surface look good. But there are many people casting doubt on the accuracy of these figures," Lun said.

The Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.3 percent at 2,218.76.

Japanese heavy industrial shares posted strong gains. Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. jumped 6.8 percent. Kobe Steel rose 6.8 percent. Cosmo Oil soared 14.7 percent.

Australian surf wear retailer Billabong International dived 26 percent amid disappointment at its moves toward a $287 million takeover deal that is half of what was offered last December.

Apart from the Fed minutes, U.S. corporate earnings will draw attention later in the week. Banks Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase are among the blue chips scheduled to issue reports.

Wall Street stocks ended higher Monday, as investors waited to see whether big U.S. companies would deliver on expectations of strong earnings in 2013. The Dow Jones industrial average hit another record Tuesday, rising 0.4 percent to close at 14,673.46. The Standard & Poor's 500 added 0.4 percent, to 1,568.61. The Nasdaq composite gained 0.5 percent to 3,237.86.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was down 28 cents to $93.92 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 84 cents to finish at $94.20 a barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3088 from $1.3099 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell to 99.04 yen from 99.28 yen.


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