Asia Stocks Rise Ahead Of Federal Reserve Meeting

PAMELA SAMPSON

BANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ World stock markets rose Tuesday as investors hoped to hear encouraging words about the U.S. economy when Federal Reserve policymakers conclude a meeting later in the day.

Benchmark oil rose to near $107 per barrel while the dollar gained against the euro and the yen.

Analysts don't expect Fed chief Ben Bernanke to announce any changes to its key interest rate, which is already close to zero, but are waiting to see if the Fed expresses confidence in the economic outlook. Recent reports suggest that the U.S. economic recovery is gaining momentum. Employers added 227,000 jobs in February, more than analysts were expecting.

"They will maintain loose money and a low interest rate. And I think that will help the U.S. on the way to recovery," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong.

Still, the global economic outlook remains fuzzy. China's trade figures released on the weekend suggested the world's No. 2 economy continues to slow.

On Monday, Greece implemented the biggest debt writedown in history when private investors agreed to accept big losses on their bond holdings. The move should help Greece stave off default later this month, but the country is still in a severe recession, and deep-rooted problems continue to haunt other struggling European economies.

European stock markets opened higher. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent to 5,918.69 and Germany's DAX gained 0.8 percent to 6,953.38. France's CAC-40 added 0.7 percent to 3,514.56.

Wall Street was set to gain, with Dow Jones industrial futures 0.4 percent higher at 12,946. S&P 500 futures gained 0.4 percent to 1,372.50.

In Asia, South Korea's Kospi rose 1.1 percent to 2,025.04 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1 percent to 21,339.70. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 1.2 percent to 4,247.60. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore, mainland China and Indonesia also rose.

The Nikkei 225 index closed less than 0.1 percent higher at 9,899.08, giving back most of its earlier gains. The Bank of Japan on Tuesday kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged at zero to 0.1 percent. Japan's central bank also said it is allowing companies in areas struck by a disastrous earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 an extra year to pay back debts and adding more money to lending to encourage growth.

Chinese banks and insurance companies got a boost from the country's central bank chief, Zhou Xiaochuan, who indicated Monday that there was room to lower the level of reserves Chinese banks are required to hold â¿¿ a move that would free more money for lending to businesses.

"That means more profit for the banks. So as a result, the mainland banks and insurance companies are driving up the market today," Lun said.

In Hong Kong, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, the world's biggest bank by market value, added 1.5 percent. China Life Insurance Co., the country's biggest life insurer, shot up 2.2 percent.

Banks elsewhere rose, including South Korea's Shinhan Financial Group, up 4.4 percent. Australia & New Zealand Banking Group added 1.7 percent.

Japan's Asahi Kasei Corp. tumbled 5.4 percent, a day after it said it reached agreement to acquire Zoll Medical Corp., a Massachusetts-based maker of emergency medical resuscitation equipment, for about $2.2 billion.

Australian uranium miner Paladin Energy rose 3.3 percent after a three-year moratorium on mining of its Canadian deposits was lifted.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was up 57 cents to $106.91 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.06 to finish at $106.34 per barrel on the Nymex on Monday.

In currencies, the euro slipped to $1.3133 from $1.3150 late Monday in New York. The dollar rose to 82.66 yen from 82.26 yen.

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