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China, Japan stimulus hopes boost Asian stocks


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian stocks were mostly higher Monday on expectations China and Japan will take new steps to spur economic growth.

In South Korea, stocks turned higher after losing ground in early trading. The country's military returned fire into North Korean waters after shells from a North Korean live-fire drill fell south of the rivals' disputed western sea boundary.

Japan's Nikkei 225 gained 0.9 percent to 14,827.83 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.3 percent to 22,121.78. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.5 percent to 5,394.80. Stocks in Southeast Asia and Taiwan also rose but China's Shanghai Composite shed 0.4 percent to 2,033.31.

Investors in Japan anticipated the government or the Bank of Japan would announce measures to offset the impact of a sales tax hike. Japan's sales tax will increase to 8 percent from 5 percent on Tuesday, a move needed to help stabilize government finances but also a possible setback to economic recovery.

Harumi Taguchi, principal economist at HIS Global Insight, said an unexpectedly weak industrial output report also added pressure for the Bank of Japan to pursue additional monetary easing.

Japan's industrial production for February fell 2 percent from the previous month due to heavy snowfall and slowing demand for construction-related products, Taguchi said in a report.

Investors also increasingly expect that China's government will take measures to prevent a slowdown in the world's No. 2 economy.

An official manufacturing survey due Tuesday might cement those views after another survey released last week show China's manufacturing at an eight month low.

In South Korea, Seoul's Kospi finished 0.2 percent higher at 1,985.61. The two Koreas exchanged artillery shells in waters south of the rivals' disputed western sea borders, following Pyongyang's announcement that it would conduct live-fire drills. Residents on front-line South Korean island evacuated during artillery exchange.

Lee Sun-yub, an analyst at Shinhan Investment Corp., said the exchange of fire had little impact on foreign investors in South Korea while some local institutional investors used the incident to take profit.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average closed 0.4 percent higher on Friday. The broader S&P 500 gained 0.5 percent after an upbeat report on U.S. consumer spending underpinned investor sentiment.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for May delivery was down 5 cents at $101.62 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 39 cents to close at $101.67 on Friday.

In currencies, the dollar strengthened to 102.97 yen from 102.84 yen late Friday. The euro rose to $1.3756 from $1.3753.