Asian Markets Rebound Slightly

Most major Asian stock markets gained modestly Monday as a weaker yen underpinned exporting stocks in Japan but expectations of dire fourth quarter results from U.S. companies kept a lid on gains.

With President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, sentiment has been supported in recent days by hopes that the new U.S. administration will act boldly to revive the ailing American economy, a vital export market for Asia. An $825 billion stimulus package is making its way through the Congress.

Still, the optimism could quickly fade amid a litany of dismal earnings results, which could drag the Dow below 8,000 points, said Castor Pang, an analyst at Sun Hung Kai Financial in Hong Kong.

"Most investors fear the U.S. markets will continue to tumble. Once Obama's inauguration is out of the way, companies will release fourth quarter results and they are expected to be very poor," Pang said.

"The global economy is still continuing to slump," he said. "It would seem that there will be no sign of recovery in the first half of this year and that will keep sending markets south."

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average edged up 34.30 points, or 0.4 percent, to 8,264.45, South Korea's Kospi gained 1.4 percent to 1,150.77. Shanghai's benchmark jumped 2 percent and markets in Australia and Singapore also gained.

But Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.1 percent to 13,245.70, and markets in Thailand and Malaysia also declined.

The region's advance followed Wall Street's gains on Friday but trade was muted ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday in the U.S. on Monday. The Dow Jones industrials rose 68.73 points, or 0.8 percent, to 8,312 and the S&P500 gained 9.9 points, or 1.2 percent, to 858.50.

In Tokyo, major exporters got a lift as the yen weakened mildly against the dollar. Japan's No. 1 automaker Toyota Motor Corp. was up 1.7 percent, Honda Motor Co. gained 3.2 percent and Panasonic Corp. rose 1.2 percent.

The dollar was trading at 90.82 yen, up from 90.67 yen late Friday.

Toshiba Corp. jumped 6.5 percent amid reports it had won contracts to supply equipment for two nuclear plants being built in the U.S.

In Singapore, SembCorp Marine Ltd., one of the world's biggest builders of deepsea oil rigs, sank 3 percent after Credit Suisse downgraded the stock to "underperform" as a major customer may default on payments for semisubmersible rigs it has ordered.

Oil prices continued to languish with light sweet crude for February delivery down 31 cents at $36.20 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Merchantile exchange by early afternoon in Singapore.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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