Asian shares rise higher

Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday, with Japan’s Nikkei breezing past its 10-month closing high of the day before as the yen weakened, boosting exporters.

Oil prices rose to near $85 a barrel after a report showed U.S. crude supplies unexpectedly fell last week, suggesting demand may be improving.

The Nikkei 225 stock average in Tokyo added 0.6 percent to 10,807.78. Exporters, including electronics makers, rose as a more robust dollar hovered in the upper 83-yen range. Toshiba Corp. rose 2.8 percent, Sony Corp. was up 2.1 percent and Sharp Corp. was 2 percent higher.

A weaker yen raises the value of exporters’ profits overseas and makes Japanese goods less expensive in foreign markets.

“There’s quite a high correlation between the yen and the Nikkei,” said Peter Elston, a strategist at Aberdeen Asset Management in Singapore. “The yen goes down — that’s good for exporters.”

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.6 percent to 23,041.08 and the Shanghai Composite index was up 0.2 percent to 2,904.27.

But South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.4 percent at 2,002.71 while benchmarks in Singapore, New Zealand, Taiwan and Indonesia also retreated.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was virtually flat at 4,933.40, dragged down largely by mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd., which shed 1.8 percent despite reporting a 72 percent jump in first-half net profit.

Matthew Lewis, head of sales in Sydney at CMC Markets, said the stock chocked up strong gains before its earnings report and now investors were simply reaping the rewards.

“Some investors are taking cash off the marketplace and banking some profits,” he said.

Australia’s finance sector kept the index from sliding into negative territory, with its four largest banks — Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac Banking Corp., National Australia Bank Ltd., and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group — all reporting gains.

Asia maintained its poise despite souring indicators in the U.S.

In New York on Tuesday, a surprisingly weak retail sales report drove stocks lower on Tuesday, giving the Dow Jones industrial average its second straight day of losses.

The Dow fell 41.55, or 0.3 percent, to close at 12,226.64. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 4.31, or 0.3 percent, to 1,328.01. The Nasdaq composite index fell 12.83, or 0.5 percent, to 2,804.35.

There was more trepidation ahead later Wednesday, when the Commerce Department reports on home construction for January. The consensus view of economists is that builders broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 535,000 homes last month — barely half the pace viewed as healthy.

In currencies, the dollar eased to 83.72 yen from 83.82 yen late Tuesday. The dollar rose from the lower-83 yen level overnight, at one point hitting a two-month high of 83.91 yen. The euro rose to $1.3529 from $1.3492.

Benchmark crude oil for March delivery was up 34 cents at $84.66 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 49 cents to settle at $84.32 a barrel Tuesday.

Source: AP

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