Asian shares advance

Asian stock markets advanced Wednesday, with the region’s high-tech shares pushing higher after strong earnings from Apple Inc. and IBM Corp.

Oil prices lingered above $91 a barrel, underpinned by the rise in regional stock markets and raised demand forecasts for this year. In currencies, the dollar weakened against the yen and the euro.

“Markets are taking their queue from the U.S. We are in results seasons, and some have beaten forecasts,” said Lee Kok Joo, head of research at Phillip Securities in Singapore. “The most prominent one is Apple. Indications are that the retail market was very strong in the last quarter of last year. Consumers are spending.”

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average rose 0.4 percent to 10,555.92 and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.7 percent to 2,110.88. The electronics sector bolstered both markets, with Hitachi Ltd. up 2.9 percent in Tokyo and Samsung Electronics Co. jumping 2.3 percent in Seoul.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.8 percent to 24,351.86 on robust gains by property shares. The Shanghai Composite index was up 1 percent at 2,737.66 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.6 percent to 4,832.50.

Apple produced stellar holiday-quarter results by boosting production of iPads faster than analysts predicted, and shoppers bought iPhones as fast as Apple could make them, helping drive the company’s fiscal first-quarter net income up 78 percent from the prior year.

Apple’s newest product, the iPad tablet computer was one of the hottest gifts over the holidays. Apple sold 7.3 million of them — a million more than analysts expected.

But even with the strong start to earnings season, investors are waiting for it to get into full swing before making any conclusions about the actual condition of the U.S. economy. Later Wednesday, EBay Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. release quarterly results. Markets were also anticipating the U.S. Commerce Department’s release of housing starts for December.

In New York on Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average hit its highest close since June 2008, led by Boeing Co. and Caterpillar Inc. The two companies contributed more than half of the Dow’s 50 point rise.

The Dow rose 50.55 points, or 0.4 percent, to finish at 11,837.93. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged up 1.78, or 0.1 percent, to close at 1,295.02. The Nasdaq rose 10.55, or 0.4 percent, to 2,765.85.

Apple had weighed on the Nasdaq after the company announced that its charismatic CEO Steve Jobs was taking another medical leave. Its shares fell 2.2 percent but that was offset when the company announced its earnings after the market closed.

IBM also reported after market close, announcing that its net income in the fourth quarter rose 9 percent, topping expectations.

In currencies, the dollar fell to 82.21 yen from 82.59 yen late Tuesday. The euro rose to $1.3451 from $1.3387.

Benchmark crude for February delivery was up 15 cents at $91.53 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract, which expires this week, fell 16 cents to settle at $91.38 on Tuesday.
Source: AP

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