Economy

Asia stocks gain on US growth prospects

Asian stock markets mostly rose Wednesday, spurred by expectations of faster U.S. economic growth.

A decline in the U.S. trade deficit for November, which was partly due to increased domestic oil production, has raised expectations that fourth quarter economic growth will be higher than 3 percent. "The markets are rising today because of better economic figures in the US," said Francis Lun, economist at GE Oriental Financial Group in Hong Kong.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.3 percent to 16,017.81 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 0.8 percent at 22,888.73. Benchmarks in India, Southeast Asia and Taiwan also rose. China's Shanghai Composite trimmed early gains and was 0.4 percent down at 2,039.27 by midday. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.1 percent to 5.312.40.

On Wall Street, stocks rallied Tuesday, ending a slump that had ushered in the New Year. The Standard and Poor's 500 climbed the most in three weeks, led by gains for health care stocks. The S&P 500 rose 11.11 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,837.88. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 105.84 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,530.94. The Nasdaq composite gained 39.50 points, or 1 percent, to 4,153.18.

Investors were also encouraged by the easy passage in a Senate vote late Monday of Janet Yellen's nomination to take the helm at the Federal Reserve. The vote puts an economist in the post who has backed the Fed's recent efforts to stimulate the economy with low interest rates and huge bond purchases.

Investors will get more insight into the Fed's thinking when minutes from the last Federal Open Market Committee meeting are released Wednesday. The Fed announced after that meeting it would begin winding down is $85 billion of monthly bond purchases. That stimulus was a major support for last year's rally in stocks.

Benchmark crude for February delivery was up 22 cents at $93.89 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 24 cents to $93.67 a barrel on Tuesday. In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3622 from $1.3615 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar rose to 104.91 yen from 104.69 yen.

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