Asian Stocks Rise Amid US Stimulus Hopes

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HONG KONG  — Asian stocks climbed Friday, with benchmarks in Tokyo and Hong Kong up more than 1 percent, amid hopes massive stimulus measures in the U.S. and beyond will mitigate the worst global slowdown in decades.

Investors were optimistic the U.S. plan, which swelled to $920 billion as of Thursday, would soon win approval from lawmakers, providing some clarity about how long recession in the world's largest economy might last. Debate in the Senate continued for the fourth day as some lawmakers pressed for cuts.

Adding to the upbeat mood were reports U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner would deliver a speech Monday outlining a plan to overhaul the government's $700 billion financial rescue program. In Europe, the European Central bank, while leaving its key interest rate unchanged, hinted of a steep cut next month.

However, the region's advance belied the atrocious economic data and corporate results released in recent weeks. Despite the torrent of bad news, investors have tended to pay more attention to government actions of late, analysts said.

"People are hoping more will be done by the major governments and central banks," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, chief investment strategist for SJS Markets in Hong Kong. "Investors are looking for any optimistic event to hang onto right now."

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average rose 95.92 points, or 1.2 percent, to 8,052.80, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 190.18 points, or 1.4 percent, to 13,369.08. South Korea's Kospi was up 1.4 percent at 1,194.46.

Shanghai's index added 2 percent, Australia's benchmark was up 1.3 percent and Taiwan's main stock measure was 2.6 percent higher.

In Japan, shares in Toyota Motor Corp. rose 2.3 percent as investors braced for the company's earnings, to be released after the market's close. The gains came even as Moody's Investors Service lowered its credit rating on the company, saying the tough global auto market was seriously hurting the firm's profits.

Markets will be watching closely the release of Friday's January employment report in the U.S. for clues to the health of American consumers, whose spending habits are critical to Asia's export-dependent Asian economies.

Overnight in New York, better-than-expected reports at mega retailers such as Wal-Mart helped lift Wall Street.

The Dow industrials rose 106.41, or 1.3 percent, to 8,063.07. Broader stock indicators also climbed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 13.62, or 1.6 percent, to 845.85, and the Nasdaq composite index climbed 31.19, or 2.1 percent, to 1,546.24.

U.S. futures rose modestly, suggesting a higher open on Wall Street Friday.

Oil prices were lower, with light, sweet crude for March delivery off 32 cents at $40.85 a barrel in Asian trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Overnight, the contract rose 85 cents to settle at $41.17.

In currencies, dollar traded at 90.88 yen, down from 90.51 yen earlier. The euro was little changed at $1.2795 compared to $1.2794.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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