HONG KONG: Asian shares were mostly up Wednesday after a strong lead from Wall Street, with Tokyo stocks finishing at their highest level in five years and as markets awaited testimony from the US Federal Reserve chief.
Japanese investors welcomed the weakening yen, with Tokyo stocks ending up 1.60 per cent, or 246.24 points, at 15,627.26, the best finish since late December 2007.
The market maintained early gains after the Bank of Japan (BoJ) wrapped up a two-day meeting with a unanimous vote to keep its monetary policy unchanged, as the country tackles years of deflation.
Seoul climbed 0.64 per cent, or 12.74 points, to finish at 1,993.83. Sydney ended down 0.28 per cent, or 14.7 points, at 5,165.4.
In afternoon trade, Shanghai was flat, edging up 0.07 per cent. Analysts said the stock market would likely consolidate after gaining in the past five sessions.
Hong Kong was down 0.78 per cent after the start of trading was delayed until the afternoon due to severe rainstorm warnings advising people against travel.
In early April the BoJ's new management team, hand picked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, started on a new era of huge asset purchases and massive monetary easing, vowing no let-up in the fight to reverse falling prices.
The central bank said in a statement Wednesday that it would continue with the monetary easing as it targets two per cent inflation.
“Such conduct of monetary policy will support the positive movements in economic activity and financial markets, contribute to a rise in inflation expectations, and lead Japan's economy to overcome deflation that has lasted for nearly 15 years,” it said.
The bank said the world's third largest economy had already started picking up as exports have stopped falling due to recovering overseas economies.
The BoJ statement came after the finance ministry announced a larger-than-expected April trade deficit, with the red-ink expanding 69.7 per cent on year to 879.9 billion yen ($8.6 billion).
Exports rose 3.8 per cent to 5.78 trillion yen while imports jumped 9.4 per cent to 6.66 trillion yen. Junko Nishioka, chief economist at RBS Securities Japan, said the figures indicated that the “worst period” is over for exports.
Abe's pro-growth, pro-spending policies have weakened the yen more than 20 per cent against the dollar over the past six months and boosted share prices, with a lower yen helping exporters but pushing up import bills.
Markets will also be watching Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony to Congress later Wednesday for signs the Fed might be ready to alter its quantitative easing policy, or project when and how it might reel in its aggressive bond purchases.
US stocks closed at all time highs Tuesday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing up 0.34 per cent at 15,387.58 after a strong earnings report from Home Depot, and the broad-based S&P 500 adding 0.17 per cent to 1,669.16.
Europe also posted a strong lead, with London recording a new 13-year high of 6,803.87 points amid stimulus policies from top world central banks and a barrage of company results.
The dollar edged up against the yen, fetching 102.59 yen in Tokyo afternoon trade, up from 102.47 in New York late Tuesday.
The euro rose to 132.44 yen from 132.26 yen and to $1.2910 from $1.2906.
Oil was down in Asia, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in July dropping 48 cents to $95.70 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for July delivery shedding 34 cents to $103.57.
Gold was at $1,377.90 at 0620 GMT from $1,387.90 late Tuesday.
In other markets:
Taipei was up 0.19 per cent, or 15.79 points, at 8,398.84. Hon Hai Precision added 1.29 per cent to Tw$78.3 while Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co was 0.44 per cent lower at Tw$112.0.
Wellington rose 0.42 per cent, or 19.34 points, to 4,610.18. Fletcher Building was up 1.81 per cent at NZ$8.43, Telecom Corp was down 0.62 per cent at NZ$2.40 and Air New Zealand was unchanged at NZ$1.54.