Hong Kong: Asian markets mostly rose on Wednesday after US Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke reaffirmed the central bank’s huge monetary easing scheme, but a stronger yen sent Tokyo lower.
Investors remained hesitant and the euro came under pressure after Italy’s election results which left no party in overall control, raising concerns that uncertainty in Rome could see the euro zone return to the dark days of crisis.
Tokyo closed down 1.27%, or 144.84 points, at 11,253.97, Sydney was up 0.66%, or 33 points, at 5036.6, and Seoul rose 0.20%, or 4.03 points, to 2,004.04.
Shanghai closed up 0.87%, or 19.88 points, at 2,313.22, while Hong Kong finished 0.25% stronger, adding 57.32 points to 22,577.01.
In testimony to Congress Bernanke said the Fed’s $85 billion a month bond-purchase programme aimed at holding down long-term interest rates and encouraging investment—known as quantitative easing—was still merited.
While warning that looming steep budget cuts could slow growth, he stressed high unemployment was a main challenge to the economy, adding that the risks of the programme—inflation, and risky behaviour in the financial industry—were being monitored closely.
Bernanke said the programme was “providing important support to the recovery”.
His comments on Tuesday were a relief for financial markets, which stumbled last week after minutes from the Fed’s latest policy meeting suggested some members wanted to curtail the policy before the economy was back in track.
“Bernanke confirmed the Fed’s commitment to continue quantitative easing until unemployment falls, and US economic data are clearly improving,” Martin Lakos, division director in Macquarie’s Private Wealth division in Australia, told Dow Jones Newswires.
On Wall Street the Dow rose 0.84%, the S&P 500 added 0.61% and the Nasdaq jumped 0.43%.
US investors also took comfort in surprisingly robust new home sales while the Conference Board’s February consumer confidence index showed a surprise jump to 69.6 from 58.4 in January, well above the average analyst estimate of 62.0.
The dollar fell against the yen, buying 91.64 yen in early European trade from 91.93 yen late Tuesday in New York, and well off the 94.77 yen high seen on Monday.
The European single currency bought $1.3082 and 119.89 yen, from $1.3061 and 120.08 yen.
Euro zone fears have been reignited after the Italian polls, which left the country with a hung parliament and a protest party effectively holding the balance of power.
Investors fear the outcome will mean Italy reversing the austerity policies put in place to pay off its debts, with implications for the wider region.
Italian leftist leader Pier Luigi Bersani warned that the huge anti-austerity protest vote should be heeded beyond Italy’s borders, adding: “The bell tolls also for Europe.”
Oil prices were mixed, with New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, rising 13 cents to $92.76 while Brent North Sea crude for April delivery fell six cents to $112.65.
Gold was at $1,608.32 at 1025 GMT compared with $1,597.80 late Tuesday.
In other markets:
—Wellington rose 0.88%, or 37.40 points, to close at a five-year high 4,276.32.
Telecom Corp was up 2.16% to NZ$2.37 and Air New Zealand gained 1.51% to NZ$1.345.
—Manila closed 0.22% lower, shedding 14.40 points to 6,616.27.
Megaworld Corp. fell 2.05% to 3.82 pesos and Alliance Global Group dropped 2.40% to 20.30 pesos, while Bank of the Philippine Islands eased 1.67% to 105.80 pesos.
—Taipei rose 0.22%, or 17.08 points, to 7,897.98.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. was 0.97% higher at Tw$104.5 and leading integrated chip design house MediaTek added 1.06% to Tw$333.5.
—Singapore rose 0.21%, or 6.86 points, to close at 3,261.12.
Keppel Corp gained 1.22% to Sg$11.61 while DBS Group fell 0.46% to Sg$15.10.
—Bangkok slipped 0.80%, or 12.27 points, to 1,518.05.
Coal producer Banpu closed 0.77% lower at 387.00 baht, while PTT fell 0.87% to 341.00 baht.
—Jakarta ended up 1.14%, or 53.38 points, at 4,716.42.
Retailer Ramayana Lestari Sentosa gained 3.91% to 1,330 rupiah and food manufacturer Indofood Sukses Makmur rose 2.90% to 7,100 rupiah, while cigarette maker Gudang Garam slid 1.21% to 48,850 rupiah.
—Kuala Lumpur shares ended flat at 1,624.14.
Malayan Banking fell 0.2% to 9.12 ringgit, while Telekom Malaysia shed 0.2% to 5.32. AirAsia gained 8.3% to 2.86 ringgit.
—Mumbai rose 0.72%, or 137.27 points, to 19,152.41.