Asia Stocks Rise As Greece Debt Deal Appears Near

Published February 8, 2012 5:36AM (EST)

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stocks rose Wednesday as Japan's powerhouse exporters got a boost from hopes of new moves to weaken the yen while a deal appeared within reach between Greece and its creditors to cut the country's massive debt load.

Benchmark oil approached $99 per barrel while the dollar was virtually flat against the euro but higher against the yen.

The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo was 0.8 percent higher to 8,990.58 after briefly hitting 9,012.17, a three-month intraday high. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.9 percent to 1,999.80 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.6 percent to 20,822.06. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.4 percent to 4,290.70.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, New Zealand, India and mainland China also rose.

Greece has been kept solvent for the last two years by euro110 billion ($145 billion) in international rescue loans. But the money was not enough and a second loan is urgently needed to avert bankruptcy.

International lenders, however, have refused to approve more aid unless Greece learns to live within its means and implements a strict austerity program. Without an injection of emergency money — some euro130 billion ($170 billion) is on the line — Greece will likely default on bond repayments due next month.

"People are hopeful there will be some resolution on Greece. Nothing dramatic is happening, but generally people are more confident that we will get a resolution on Greece and they will remain in the euro in the short-term," said Andrew Sullivan, principal sales trader at Piper Jaffray in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp. jumped 4.2 percent, a day after Japan's top automaker raised its annual earnings forecast, saying a recovery is on track. A weaker yen helped other export-dependent stocks. Yamaha Motor Co. surged 4.2 percent and Mazda Motor Corp. soared 6.6 percent. Panasonic Corp. added 2.5 percent.

Earnings of many Japanese brand name companies have been battered in recent months by the yen's strength against the dollar and the euro, which erodes foreign income when repatriated to Japan.

But the yen fell Wednesday, a day after Japan's Finance Ministry released data showing that the country had conducted unannounced yen-selling interventions in early November, Kyodo News reported. Still, the yen remains significantly stronger than it was a year ago.

BHP Billiton Ltd., the world's biggest miner, shed 0.4 percent after announcing a 5.5 percent drop in first-half profit. The Anglo-Australian company blamed the results on lower commodity prices as well as production constraints.

Australian mining companies' burgeoning profits have prompted the government to introduce a new tax on iron ore and coal revenue starting in July.

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.3 percent to close at 12,878.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 0.2 percent to 1,347.05. The Nasdaq composite rose marginally to 2,904.08 — about a point shy of its best close since December 2000.

A report that job openings soared to the highest level in almost three years in December also helped the U.S. market. The government reported Friday that the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in January, the lowest in almost three years.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 44 cents to $98.85 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.50 to $98.41 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currency trading, the euro slipped to $1.3246 from $1.3248 late Tuesday in New York. But the dollar rose to 77.06 yen from 76.78 yen.

By Salon Staff

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