Most Asian stocks higher as investors await ECB decision

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

HONG KONG (AP) — Most Asian stock markets rose Wednesday as investors anticipated European policymakers would soon unleash more stimulus while Chinese shares extended their rebound following a steep plunge at the start of the week.

KEEPING SCORE: Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 1.5 percent to 24,304.24 and China's Shanghai Composite Index leapt 3.7 percent to 3,291.74. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 zoomed 1.6 percent higher to 5,393.40 and South Korea's Kospi edged up 0.2 percent to 1,921.23. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore, the Philippines and New Zealand also climbed. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index slipped 0.5 percent to 17,280.48 after the Bank of Japan concluded a meeting without any changes to its ultra-loose monetary policy.

MORE STIMULUS: Many in the markets are betting that the European Central Bank will throw the continent's stricken economy another lifeline on Thursday. It's widely expected that the ECB will announce another massive round of government bond buying using newly printed money — a stimulus program known as quantitative easing.

ANALYST VIEW: "International stock markets have been supported by the expectation that the ECB will announce quantitative easing at its meeting this week," Ric Spooner, chief analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said in a commentary. "However, there is significant uncertainty about the nature and detail of any program that is announced."

CHINA BOUNCE: The Shanghai index bounced higher for a second day after plummeting nearly 8 percent on Monday. Helping shore up sentiment was China economic growth data released Tuesday, which "was a relief to markets," said Spooner, because it "paints a picture of slightly moderating overall growth with services sector growth going a fair way towards offsetting ongoing weakness in property."

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks closed slightly higher, helped by a late rise in technology stocks after a day of choppy trading. The Dow Jones industrial average rose a fraction of a percent to 17,515.23 and the broader S&P 500 index inched up 0.2 percent to 2,022.55. The Nasdaq rose 0.4 percent to 4,654.85.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery was up 52 cents to $46.99 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The February contract ended its last day of trading Tuesday by dropping $2.30 to close at $46.39 a barrel. Brent crude for March delivery, the international benchmark, rose 41 cents to $48.40 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 117.65 yen from 118.64 yen the previous day. The euro edged up to $1.1581 from $1.1548.