Asia stocks rise as oil slump promises benefits

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday as a slump in energy prices promised benefits for the region's major economies.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average was up 0.2 percent at 14,971.79 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.7 percent to 23,205.38. China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.4 percent to 2,369.76 and Seoul's Kospi was little changed at 1,928.08. Markets in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand also were higher.

ENERGY SLUMP: The price of oil suffered its biggest drop in nearly two years after the International Energy Agency reduced its forecast for demand for this year and 2015. The benchmark U.S. crude futures contract fell $3.90 to close Tuesday at $81.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was the biggest drop since November of 2012, and it's the lowest closing price since June of 2012. The contract was up 30 cents at $82.14 on Wednesday.

ASIA UPSIDE: Countries such as Japan, China, India, Indonesia and South Korea are major importers of oil and other fuels. They could benefit in multiple ways from a sustained drop in crude prices from improved trade balances to reduced subsidy bills. Lower overall energy prices could also flow through to higher disposable income for consumers.

THE QUOTE: "Lower energy prices are having a positive effect on the perception of improved real wages, i.e., inflation-adjusted wages, while many emerging markets are seeing increasing 'real' bond yields, which in turn could attract capital," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. "In the U.S., gasoline has fallen of late and should positively impact household wealth, which in turn should support future retail sales, promoting upside in GDP."

WALL STREET: Hit by a drop in energy stocks, the Dow lost 5.88 points, or 0.04 percent, to 16,315.19 on Tuesday. The S&P 500 index rose 2.96 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,877.70. The Nasdaq gained 13.52 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,227.17.

CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.2643 from $1.2638 late Tuesday. The dollar dropped to 107.22 yen from 107.30 yen.