Asian markets up in face of Japan nuclear worries

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks rose Wednesday despite Wall Street losses and Japan’s declaration that its nuclear crisis is as severe as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Oil prices hovered above $106 a barrel in Asia as traders mulled whether higher fuel costs will undermine crude demand and stymie a two-month rally. In currencies, the dollar gained against the yen and the euro.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.2 percent to 9,577.52, despite concerns about power shortages following the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami. South Korea’s Kospi was up 0.3 percent at 2,095.36. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent to 24,026.

“Most of Asia has rebounded reasonably strongly,” said Ben Potter of IG Markets in Melbourne. “People don’t seem to be panicking as much.”

Anxiety about Japan weighed on Asian markets following Tokyo’s announcement Tuesday that the crisis was as severe as Chernobyl. On Wednesday, the Cabinet downgraded its assessment of Japanese economic conditions due to the quake.

“There are a lot of concerns and uncertainties in and around Asia because we are very close to that nuclear plant,” said Jackson Wong, a vice president of Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong.

Some traders were taking profits, having factored Japan’s crisis into their plans, said Wong.

“The market is taking an excuse to correct or consolidate, since we had a huge run-up in the last two weeks,” he said.

China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.2 percent to 3,014.15.

Chinese investors were looking ahead to Friday’s release of inflation and economic growth data. Analysts expect them to show growth easing slightly in the latest quarter and March inflation rising from February’s 4.9 percent.

Chinese stocks have been supported by a flood of liquidity despite government efforts to curb credit.

Asian markets shook off Wall Street’s overnight plunge, which knocked 117.53 points, or almost 1 percent, off the Dow Jones industrial average. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and Nasdaq composite also declined.

U.S. stocks weakened after Washington reported an unexpected drop in exports and Alcoa Inc. reported disappointing sales as major American companies started reporting earnings.

Elsewhere in Asia, Sydney’s S&P ASX 200 was up 0.2 percent at 4,907.40 and Singapore’s FTSE Straits Times index rose 0.4 percent 3,150.26.

The dollar was trading at 84.13 yen, up slightly from Tuesday, and gained against the euro at $1.449.

Benchmark crude for May delivery was up 16 cents at $106.41 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gave up $3.67, or 3 percent, to settle at $106.25 on Tuesday.

In London, Brent crude for May delivery was up 65 cents to $121.57 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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