Asia stocks rise as Europe debt crisis fears ease

BANGKOK: Asian stock markets mostly rose Wednesday after Europe and Wall Street gained on hopes a government debt crisis in Europe can be quarantined to smaller economies.

Investors turned optimistic on reports that plans are being developed in the European Union to rescue Greece. That raised hopes that policymakers will take bigger steps to contain debt troubles in other weak European economies including Portugal and Spain.

Japan's Nikkei stock benchmark gained nearly 1 percent as the dollar rose against the yen, boosting exporters, while oil prices fell after surging to near $74 a barrel on Tuesday. The dollar rose against the euro.

Greece's government has vowed wage and pension reform in an effort to gain credibility in its plan to drive down its debt load. However, nationwide strikes were planned for Wednesday, possibly undercutting any confidence in the country's plan.

Some experts believe the European Central Bank may come up with a form of support which would not require a bailout, such as guarantees for debt. Alternatively, big economies like Germany and France could offer support.

Hong Kong stocks bucked the regional trend with the Hang Seng index falling 17.08 points, or 0.1 percent, to 19,781.31. South Korea's Kospi was also lower, slipping 0.2 percent to 1,568.09.

Gains elsewhere were moderate with Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average up 79.44, or 0.8 percent, at 10,012.34 and Australia's benchmark gaining 0.1 percent to 4510.

China's Shanghai index advanced 0.6 percent to 2,967.03, helped by strong trade figures for January — indicating a recovery in both global demand and Chinese consumption is on track.

"We can see China's trade has entered a stable stage," said Shanghai Securities economist Hu Xiaoyue. "Unless there's another round of the financial crisis, China's export recovery is well on track and won't see a double dip."

Markets in Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia also gained. Singapore was lower.

In the U.S. on Tuesday, the Dow rose 150.25, or 1.5 percent, to 10,058.64, its steepest percentage gain since Nov. 9. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 13.78, or 1.3 percent, to 1,070.52, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 24.82, or 1.2 percent, to 2,150.87.

Oil prices fell in Asia with benchmark crude for March delivery down 51 cents at $73.24 a barrel.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 89.73 yen from 89.63 yen. The euro fell to $1.3744 from $1.3791.