BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets rose Thursday, boosted by hopes that Europe is preparing to take action to tackle the region's financial crisis and comments from a Fed policymaker about possible support for the U.S. economy.
Benchmarks across Asia rose, including Japan's Nikkei 225 index, up 1.1 percent to 8,625.63 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng, which added 1.4 percent to 18,783.06.
Hopes for strong action by the U.S. central bank were lifted by comments from Atlanta Federal Reserve President Dennis Lockhart, who said Wednesday that sustained weakness in job creation could justify more action to support the economic recovery.
Traders will be closely watching Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony before a congressional committee Thursday for any hints that the Fed is considering more monetary stimulus.
The Fed is believed to be considering a third round of "quantitative easing," or purchases of Treasury bonds to try to lower long-term interest rates and encourage borrowing. Traders have speculated that a third round, QE3, is under consideration.
The Fed could also continue its "Operation Twist" program, under which it sells shorter-term securities and buys longer-term bonds to keep their rates down. The current Operation Twist is set to expire at the end of this month.
"Investors will try to get a hint from him whether Bernanke is going to roll out QE3 or just extend Operation Twist or some other kind of hybrid policy," said Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong. "But there will be something. If he hints at nothing, the markets might take it negatively."
Hopes of new Fed moves helped traders overlook the disappointment that the European Central Bank offered no new monetary stimulus on Wednesday. Its chief Mario Draghi said it was the turn of governments to restore confidence in the 17 nations that use the euro common currency.
Draghi, however, has left himself some room to maneuver, saying that "we'll monitor closely all the developments and we'll stand ready to act" if necessary. He also said some members of the 23-member ECB council advocated a rate cut.
"This implies that rates cuts are in the pipeline very soon but any more action will require European politicians to act first," analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a market commentary.
South Korea's Kospi index jumped 2.5 percent to 1,846.44 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 1.3 percent to 4,107. Benchmarks in mainland China, India, New Zealand and Indonesia also rose.
Japan's export shares rose as the yen softened against the dollar, which helps to make the cost of Japanese products more competitive in global markets. Mazda Motor Corp. jumped 4.1 percent. Panasonic Corp. added 3.8 percent.
South Korean blue chips posted hefty gains, including Samsung Electronics, up 4.2 percent. LG Electronics Inc. jumped 4.2 percent and Hyundai Heavy Industries climbed 4.4 percent.
In Hong Kong, Chinese Estate Holdings Ltd. fell 1.7 percent after the property company, whose billionaire chairman Joseph Lau is facing corruption charges, said the Macau government may take back a land grant. Such a move would threaten 3.8 billion Hong Kong dollars ($500 million) worth of apartment sales on the site.
Benchmark oil for July delivery was up 31 cents to $85.33 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 73 cents to settle at $85.02 in New York on Wednesday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2562 from $1.2546 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 79.42 yen from 79.18 yen.