Asian stocks track US higher

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

HONG KONG -- Asian stock markets advanced Thursday but could not hold gains propelled by a key U.S. benchmark climbing to a high on strong earnings and economic data.

Regional investors were initially reassured after the S&P 500 closed at its highest level yet, squeaking past its previous record set less than a month ago. The rally was helped along by Bank of America, the country's No. 2 bank, reporting that quarterly profits quadrupled.

A Federal Reserve survey that showed economic growth remained healthy also bolstered sentiment, as did optimistic comments about the state of the global economy by the World Bank and the head of the International Monetary Fund. But stocks later pared their gains.

"The markets are very well owned, they're at very high levels relative to last year and previous years, that's across the board, especially in developed markets," said Benjamin Collett, head of Asian and Japan equities at Sunrise Brokers. "There's a lot of optimism priced in Japan, so a bit of selling in the p.m. on a Thursday on the absence of new catalysts is not that surprising."

Japan's Nikkei 225 swung into negative territory after making gains in morning trading on a weaker yen and Japanese machinery orders rising to a five-year high in November. The index retreated 0.4 percent to 15,737.88.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged up 0.2 percent to 22,959.59 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.2 percent to 1,957.07. Australia's S&P ASX 200 jumped 1 percent to 5,300.50.

Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index was unchanged at 2,022.88 while the smaller Shenzhen composite index dipped 0.1 percent to 1,046.43.

In the U.S., the S&P 500 gained 0.5 percent to close at 1,848.38, surpassing the previous high on Dec. 31, 2013. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 0.7 percent to 16,481.94. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.8 percent to 4,214.88.

In currencies, the dollar's rally in the morning against the Japanese yen faded, and it edged up to 104.74 yen from 104.72 in late trading Wednesday. A lower yen makes exports by the country's manufacturing giants such as Sony and Toyota cheaper for buyers abroad.

The euro rose to $1.3619 from $1.3594.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for February delivery was up 3 cents to $94.20 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.58 to settle at 94.17 on Wednesday. (AP)

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