Asian stocks higher as investors await central banks

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stock markets rose Monday, extending a global rally after Wall Street finished last week strongly, as investors turned their attention to several key upcoming central bank meetings.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 2.1 percent to 17,291.15 while South Korea's Kospi edged up 0.2 percent to 1,974.56. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1.3 percent to 20,466.66 and the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China gained 2.7 percent to 2,886.13. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.5 percent to 5,249.80. Benchmarks in Taiwan and Southeast Asia also rose.

CENTRAL BANKS: After the European Central Bank followed through last week on its promise to provide more stimulus, investors will be awaiting more meetings from the world's major central banks. Most of the attention will fall on the Fed's meeting scheduled Wednesday, as investors watch to see whether the U.S. central bank is leaning toward hiking rates again or standing pat. The Bank of Japan and the Bank of England are also scheduled to meet this week though analysts don't expect any major policy changes. Australia's central bank is set to release meeting minutes on Tuesday, which will provide further insight.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: "Investors seemed more confident that there is little chance of a March Fed hike this week, but they are anticipating some sort of guidance at the press conference," said Bernard Aw, market strategist at IG in Singapore. He added that chances of a June rate hike are now increasing.

CHINA SUPPORT: Chinese stock markets appeared to be rising mainly on comments from Liu Shiyu, chief of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, who told a press conference on Saturday that it's too early to talk about winding back official support measures for stock markets, according to the official Xinhua news agency. That suggests state money to prop up Chinese equities, which have gyrated since a meltdown last summer, will remain in place for a while longer.

JAPANESE ORDERS: Private sector machinery orders jumped 15 percent in January over a year earlier, the biggest such increase since comparable data became available starting in April 2005, the Kyodo News agency reported. Machinery orders are seen as a leading indicator, so some analysts say they expect capital spending to recover this year.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks finished strong on Friday, capping a four-week winning streak. The S&P 500 gained 1.6 percent to 2,022.19, and is up now nearly 11 percent from Feb. 11. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.3 percent to 17,213.31, while the Nasdaq composite climbed 1.9 percent to 4,748.47.

ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude lost 10 cents to $38.40 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 66 cents, or 1.7 percent, to settle at $38.50 per barrel on Friday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, gained 5 cents to $40.44 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 113.86 yen from 113.81 yen while the euro was flat at $1.1157.