Asia stocks higher ahead of Yellen testimony

EILEEN NG
Associated Press
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Men walk past an electronic stock indicator showing charts of Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 which gained 255.93 points, or 1.77 percent, and closed at 14,718.34 in Tokyo Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. Asian stock markets were mostly higher Monday as investors looked ahead to Janet Yellen's first comments before Congress as the new Federal Reserve chairwoman. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Asian stocks were higher Tuesday as investors waited for the new Federal Reserve chief's testimony to Congress, which might give clues to how quickly the U.S. central bank will withdraw its economic stimulus.

China's Shanghai Composite added 0.5 percent to 2,096.89 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1 percent to 21,793.10. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.7 percent at 5,257.20. Japan's market was closed for a public holiday. Singapore, Seoul, Bangkok and Jakarta all rose.

Investors will see Janet Yellen in the public spotlight for the first time as she testifies before Congress later Tuesday. Markets are waiting to see if she will consider a pause in cutting monetary stimulus because of weaker hiring by U.S. employers in the past few months.

The Labor Department reported that jobs created in January were far below market expectations, after a poor report in December. However, the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest since late 2008 and some have dismissed the poor payrolls report as caused by a spell of severe cold weather.

"We expect questions on the pace of stimulus reduction as well as exit measures, but do not expect Yellen to say anything beyond what the Fed has already communicated," Mizuho Bank said in a commentary. "Rather, we would focus on how upbeat or not her assessment of the U.S. economy is."

The Fed had been buying $85 billion worth of bonds every month in an effort to stimulate the economy by pushing down commercial lending rates. February's purchases would be $65 billion if the Fed sticks to its plan to reduce the stimulus.

After spending most of Monday lower, the Dow Jones Industrial average turned slightly higher in late trading and closed up 7.71 points, or 0.1 percent, at 15,801.79. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 2.82 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,799.84 and the Nasdaq composite rose 22.31 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,148.17.

Benchmark U.S. oil for March delivery was up 5 cents to $100.11 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 18 cents on Monday to close at $100.06.

The euro rose to $1.3667 from $1.3646 late Monday. The dollar inched down to 102.16 yen from 102.18.