Asia Stocks Rise As China Moves To Boost Economy

Published February 20, 2012 5:27AM (EST)

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets climbed Monday after China moved to boost its economy by freeing up bank lending and hopes grew that Greece will clinch the aid it needs to avoid bankruptcy.

Oil prices jumped to a nine-month high near $105 a barrel after Iran said it halted crude exports to Britain and France in an escalation of a dispute over the Middle Eastern country's nuclear program. The dollar weakened against the euro but gained against the yen.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index added 1 percent to 9,480.55. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.7 percent to 21,683.05 and China's Shanghai Composite Index was up 0.9 percent at 2,377.96.

South Korea's Kospi added 0.2 percent to 2,027.63. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 1.3 percent to 4,249.40. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines also rose. Indonesia fell.

China's central bank said over the weekend it will lower the ratio of funds that banks must hold as reserves to 20.5 percent from 21 percent, effective Friday. That will free up tens of billions of dollars for loans at a time when the growth rate is expected to drop from last quarter's 8.9 percent to closer to 8 percent. The cut is the second in two months.

Investors hoping for more lending in the real estate sector pushed up Chinese property shares. Hong Kong-listed China Resources Land Ltd. surged 3.8 percent and China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd. added 3.4 percent.

"Even last year in a very tough market, Chinese property stocks were still making profits. This year, a lot of people would say if we are in a more loosening environment, they should be able to make better profits," said Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong.

Japan's industrial and electronics sectors jumped on hopes for growth in China, a major trading partner. Heavy equipment maker Komatsu Ltd. gained 2.6 percent. Sony Corp. soared 3.4 percent.

Australian resource shares also rose on hopes for strong demand from China. BHP Billiton Ltd. gained 2.2 percent and rival Rio Tinto Ltd. rose 2.1 percent.

Market sentiment in Asia was also boosted by a strong showing on Wall Street on Friday.

The Dow Jones industrial average edged close to the 13,000 marker. The Dow hasn't closed above 13,000 since May 19, 2008, before the financial crisis.

The Dow rose 0.4 percent to close at 12,949.87, its highest close for the year so far. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.2 percent to 1,361.23, also setting a record close for 2012. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.3 percent to 2,951.78.

Markets in the U.S. are closed Monday for the Presidents' Day long weekend.

Later Monday, traders will turn their attention to Greece, which is trying to secure rescue loans from other European countries so it won't default on debt due next month. The finance ministers of euro countries are meeting Monday to finalize the terms of a bailout deal.

"Markets are optimistic that the European finance ministers will finally give approval to the second bailout to Greece," said Louis Wong, dealing director at Phillip Securities in Hong Kong.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was up $1.68 to $104.92 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 93 cents to finish at $103.24 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.3209 from $1.3159 late Friday in New York. The dollar strengthened to 79.52 yen from 79.46 yen.

By Salon Staff

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