Asia markets suffer slight post-Dow hangover
Japan's Nikkei 225 index topped 12,000 for the first time in more than four years, but stock markets elsewhere in Asia flagged following Wall Street's eye-popping performance this week.
Investors shied away from stocks even though the Dow Jones industrial average reached a new high for a second day Wednesday and the Federal Reserve said the U.S. economy grew in the first two months of the year.
The Nikkei in Tokyo rose 0.6 percent to 12,004.37 as investors waited for the Bank of Japan to wrap up a two-day meeting, the last to be headed by Masaaki Shirakawa, who steps down March 19. The incoming chief, Haruhiko Kuroda, is expected to ease monetary policy to support the policies of new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
A former vice minister of finance, Kuroda has long voiced his support for bolder central bank policies and for a weaker currency to help boost export manufacturers by making their products cheaper in overseas markets.
"The BOJ will remain under pressure to ease policy throughout 2013. The next round of substantive easing is likely to come in April at the earliest, after the new governor takes office," said analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore.
Disappointing trade figures pulled Australian stocks down. Australia's trade deficit widened to 1.06 billion Australian dollars in January, official figures show. Economists had expected a deficit of about half that.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.4 percent to 5,097.30. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.1 percent at 22,793.80. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.8 percent to 2,004.50.
The Dow Jones industrial average rallied to new high Wednesday, blowing past the record set just the day before, after a Federal Reserve survey showed moderate expansion of the U.S. economy for the first two months of the year. The "Beige Book" survey noted that 10 of the Fed's 12 banking districts reported moderate or modest growth, while the Boston and Chicago districts reported slow growth.
The gains on Wall Street were also fueled by a positive jobs report. Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that private employers added 198,000 jobs in February. The figure suggests that Friday's February employment report from the U.S. government may come in above economists' forecasts.
The Dow rose 0.3 percent to close at 14,296.24. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.1 percent to 1,541.46. The Nasdaq fell less than 0.1 percent to 3,222.36.
Benchmark oil contract for April delivery was up 2 cents to $90.45 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 39 cents to finish at $90.43 on the Nymex on Wednesday.
In currencies, the euro fell slightly to $1.2986 from $1.2994 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 93.99 yen from 94.06 yen.
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