Bernanke comments keep markets firm

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LONDON (AP) — Stocks continued to rise Thursday after the U.S. Federal Reserve said it will extend its stimulus policies if necessary, though Chinese markets were overshadowed by uncertainty over the country's economic outlook.

In prepared remarks to lawmakers in Congress, Bernanke said the Fed's timetable for reducing its bond purchases was not decided and that the central bank could even boost them if the economy fails to meet expectations.

The Fed wants to see substantial progress in the job market before scaling back its $85 billion a month in purchase of government bonds and other financial assets, he said.

Expectations the Fed might start tapering off its stimulus in September caused market jitters last month. But recent disappointing economic data has cast doubt over the likelihood of any major changes in the near future.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of British shares was up 0.4 percent to 6,597.03 while Germany's DAX was up marginally at 8,256.82. The CAC-40 in France edged 0.3 percent higher to 3,885.19.

Wall Street was expected to show little momentum on the open, with S&P 500 futures up 0.1 percent and Dow futures unchanged.

The focus later in the day will return to Bernanke, who will continue his testimony to the Senate.

Corporate earnings may also affect trading, with Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley and Verizon all due to announce results. In Europe, Nokia shares were down 4 percent after the handset maker reported disappointing second-quarter results.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.3 percent to 14,808.50, its highest close in two months, but gains elsewhere in the region were much more modest. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 4,993.40. Shares in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India and Singapore were also higher.

China-related shares were mostly lower, reflecting gloom over news earlier in the week that the world's second-largest economy posted its second straight quarter of slower economic growth in April-June.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed early gains to fall into negative territory, losing 0.1 percent to 21,345.22. Benchmarks in mainland China and Taiwan also were lower. The Shanghai Composite dropped 1.1 percent to 2,023.40.

"The slowdown of growth in China is still the main concern," said Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

In other markets, the benchmark crude contract for August delivery was down 22 cents at $106.27 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 48 cents on Wednesday.

The euro fell to $1.3111 from $1.3117 late Wednesday. The dollar rose to 100.03 yen from 99.62 yen.

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Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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