Asian markets rise as post-quake Japan recovers

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets posted muted gains Wednesday as investors weighed an easing of severe supply shortages in Japan against the prospect of more weak U.S. economic indicators.

Oil prices inched higher to near $103 a barrel as traders mulled whether a weakening dollar could help push crude back to May’s 30-month highs. The dollar fell against the yen and the euro.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.1 percent to 9,707.25 after Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said in a speech that supply and electricity disruptions caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami were easing. The economy could stage a moderate recovery starting in the second half of fiscal 2011, he said.

“Production has declined very sharply due to supply constraints caused primarily by the destruction of capital stock, disruptions in supply chains and a shortage of electric power,” Shirakawa said in a speech. “Those constraints are, however, being relaxed more quickly than expected initially as a result of strenuous efforts by firms.”

The better outlook helped raise shares of companies expected to benefit from the reconstruction of northeastern Japan, which was devastated by the twin natural disasters.

Hitachi Ltd., which builds nuclear power plants, rose 1.7 percent. Construction company Kajima Corp. jumped 1.8 percent, and Komatsu Ltd., a maker of construction equipment, gained 1.1 percent.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi index was flat at 2,142.67 after the government announced the country’s inflation rate eased for a second straight month in May, to 4.1 percent.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index drifted 0.1 percent lower to 23,650.99, led by losses in property shares that were overbought in the short term and were due for some profit-taking, according to Castor Pang, head of research at Core Pacific-Yamaichi.

Mainland China’s Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.3 percent after data showed China’s manufacturing sector easing in April. The state-affiliated China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing reported that its purchasing managers index, or PMI, fell to 52.9 in April, down from 53.4 in March.

“The slowdown in the PMI hurt, but overall market sentiment is good,” Pang said.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was 0.2 percent higher to 4,718.90. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia were also higher.

Sentiment was contained, however, by U.S. economic data that is expected to keep pointing to slowing growth. Markets expect headline manufacturing to drop three points when the Institute for Supply Management releases its manufacturing index for May in Washington later Wednesday.

The data is certain to “underscore the funk,” DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a report. “It’s not a great time for the recovery. Or more precisely, it’s not a great time for those depending on recovery. Everything’s soft and seemingly getting softer.”

On Wall Street, the stock market ended higher Tuesday on signs that Germany might drop its demands for an early rescheduling of Greek bonds, paving the way for a deal that could prevent Greece from defaulting on its debt.

The S&P index gained 1.1 percent to 1,345.20. The Dow Jones industrial average added 1 percent to 12,569.79. And the Nasdaq composite rose 1.4 percent to 2,835.30.

These gains came in spite of a grim report on the U.S. housing market. Home prices in 12 of the 20 cities tracked by the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index dropped in March to the lowest levels since the housing bubble popped in 2006.

Thirteen economic indicators, ranging from personal spending to manufacturing orders, have been weaker than economists had predicted, a sign investors and analysts say indicates that high gas prices are slowing growth more than anticipated.

Benchmark oil for July delivery was up 21 cents to $102.91 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added $2.11 to settle at $102.70 on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.4428 from $1.4378 late Monday in New York. The dollar weakened to 81.25 yen from 81.50 yen.

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