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Asia stocks rise as US central bank meets

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets rose Wednesday amid hopes that the Federal Reserve would announce measures to stimulate the U.S. economy.

Analysts say the U.S. central bank could announce new bond-buying plans or signal that a plan is in the works at the end of its two-day meeting which ends later in the day. The Fed has already launched two rounds of bond purchases to lower long-term interest rates.

Another option is to extend Operation Twist, under which the Fed has been gradually selling short-term Treasury securities and using the proceeds to buy longer-term bonds to keep their rates down. The current program is set to expire at the end of the month.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 1.2 percent to 8,762.40. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.8 percent to 19,559.37 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.6 percent to 1,902.02.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 4,131.50. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia were also higher. Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index fell. Benchmarks in Thailand and New Zealand were also lower.

"The market's risk-averse sentiment is easing, and investors have quite high hopes for central bankers to help," said Kwong Man Bun, chief operating officer at KGI Securities in Hong Kong. "Investors are now taking a breather before looking at the problem of Spain."

Spain's sharply rising borrowing costs have highlighted growing concerns that the country might eventually need foreign help to finance itself.

Worries about Spain's ability to repay its debt grew last week when the country agreed to accept a European loan of up to 100 billion euros to shore up its ailing banks. The fear is that the country's financing costs will overwhelm the government's budget as it tries to wade its way through a recession and a 24.4 percent jobless rate.

Hopes for Fed action helped banking shares. Japan's Nomura Holdings rose 2.9 percent and National Australia Bank Ltd. added 2.3 percent. Hong Kong-listed HSBC Holdings rose 2.4 percent.

Materials stocks also rose. Australia's BlueScope Steel Ltd. jumped 4.9 percent. Japanese steelmakers Kobe Steel Ltd. added 2.1 percent.

Stocks rose sharply on Wall Street Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average rise 0.8 percent to 12,837.33, its highest close in a month. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 1 percent to 1,357.98. The Nasdaq composite index rose 1.2 percent to 2,929.76.

Benchmark oil for July delivery was down 12 cents to $83.91 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose by 76 cents to end the day at $84.03 per barrel in New York on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2677 from $1.2689 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell to 78.89 yen from 79.04 yen.