China reforms, Fed boost Asian stock markets


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Asian stock markets were lifted Monday by China's reform pledges and expectations the U.S. central bank will extend its economic stimulus until March or later.

After regional stock markets closed Friday, Beijing announced more details of economic and social reforms including opening state industries to greater competition, loosening its one child policy, and abolishing its hated labor camps. China's authoritarian leadership has faced pressure to replace a worn out economic model after growth slowed to a two-decade low in the second quarter.

"Different reforms have impacted different industries and the overall reaction today has turned out to be positive, with a sense of optimism that these reforms are for the better," said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia.

China's Shanghai Composite rose 1.4 percent to 2,165.61 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 2.2 percent to 23,532.27.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 added 0.1 percent to 15,189.80 and South Korea's Kospi was up 0.3 percent to 2,011.94. Benchmarks in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore and Malaysia also rose.

The likely extension of the Federal Reserve's monetary stimulus continued to underpin stock markets.

Janet Yellen, who is slated to replace Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chief early next year, made clear last week that she's ready to defend the central bank's $85 billion of monthly bond purchases to pump up the world's No. 1 economy when she's chairman.

She expressed strong support for the Fed's low interest-rate policies during a two-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

Her statements convinced markets that the central bank won't cut, or taper, stimulus until at least March. Previously, there were expectations that the bond buying, which has kept interest rates low and sent a wave of investment into higher-yielding stocks, would be scaled back from next month.

"Yellen's dovish slant appears to have been enough to kick-start the Christmas party early," Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a market commentary.

There will be caution however, ahead of the release of October retail sales, home sales and inflation data this week that will reflect the strength of the U.S. economy. The Fed is also expected to release the minutes of its last meeting, which will give further clues on the timing for tapering, analysts said.

On Wall Street, stocks hit record highs Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 85.48 points, or 0.5 percent, to 15,961.70.

The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.4 percent to 1,798.18. The S&P 500 has advanced for six straight weeks and was up 26.1 percent so far. If it ends 2013 with a gain that big it would be the best performance in a decade.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for December delivery was down 23 cents at $93.61 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 8 cents to close at $93.84 on Friday.

The euro was little changed at $1.3492. The dollar fell to 100.16 yen from 100.30 yen late Friday.

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