Asia stocks mostly higher on US housing data

ELAINE KURTENBACH
Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Shares were mostly higher Thursday in Asia following gains on Wall Street after the release of better-than-expected housing data.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.9 percent at 22,638.65 and Seoul's Kospi gained 0.2 percent to 1,974.35. Markets in Southeast Asia were also higher and China's Shanghai Composite added 0.5 percent to 2,052.78.

Markets in Greater China are consolidating as they watch for new policy initiatives from China's annual legislative session in early March, said Linus Yip, a strategist for First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

"Investors are still looking for some good news," Yip said. "The market needs structural reforms in mainland China."

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock index edged 0.2 percent lower to 14,947.28. Shares in Australia also fell, with Australian shares coming under pressure from weakness in commodities and a decline in capital spending in the last quarter.

Japanese investors are watching for Friday's release of economic data for January, looking for signs of how a sales tax hike due to take effect April 1 might affect the country's recovery.

Investors may get fresh impetus for buying on Thursday, when Janet Yellen, the new head of the Federal Reserve, testifies in front of the Senate's Banking Committee. Stocks jumped on Feb. 11 when Yellen reassured Congress over the central bank's market-friendly, low-interest rate policies.

On Wednesday, solid U.S. housing data showing new home sales in January up 9.6 percent to an annualized rate of 468,000 units helped push the Dow Jones industrial average up 18 points, or 0.1 percent, to 16,198.41. The Standard & Poor's 500 edged up a fraction to close at 1,845.16, three points below the record high close it set six weeks ago.

In currency dealings, the euro rose to $1.3687 from $1.3680. The dollar gained to 102.35 yen from 102.30 yen.

Oil prices edged lower, with benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery down 28 cents to $102.31 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 76 cents to settle Wednesday at $102.59.