Asian stocks up, Shangai jumps on regulator comments

Asian shares were mostly higher Monday, led by a surge on the Shanghai index after the securities regulator raised hopes for increased foreign investment in China's stock market.

The euro made further gains after upbeat comments last week by the European Central Bank chief, and the yen slid again after reports that the Bank of Japan and government were set to agree on setting a two-percent inflation target.

In afternoon trade, Shanghai was up 3.12 percent after the head of China's securities regulator, Guo Shuqing, said that China could boost its market by increasing the quota foreigners can put into domestic stocks.

Seoul added 0.52 percent, or 10.37 points, to 2,007.04, Australia closed up 0.22 percent, or 10.2 points, at 4,719.7, and Hong Kong was up 0.54 percent in afternoon trade.

But Singapore slipped 0.42 percent, pulled down by property stocks after the government introduced new measures at the weekend to cool the local market.

Tokyo was closed for a public holiday.

Speaking at a Hong Kong conference Monday, Guo said the current investment quota for foreigners buying into domestic Chinese equities, through two programmes, accounted for just 1.6 percent of the total market.

He said that figure could be increased nine times, adding that the market needed further development, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

There was no clear lead from Wall Street, where stocks closed in mixed territory on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.13 percent, the broad-based S&P 500 was flat, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 0.12 percent.

Investors were looking ahead to a speech by US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke later Monday.

Minutes from the December meeting of Fed policymakers showed they were divided over how long the central bank should continue asset purchases.

But dealers thought Bernanke was likely to put an end to speculation that US policymakers may end the quantitative-easing programme, with expectations about his comments pushing down the dollar.

"I'd be shocked if he said anything other than they're buying bonds for the long haul," said Davis Scutt, a currency trader at Arab Bank in Sydney.

After tumbling Friday when the Japanese government unveiled a stimulus package, the yen slid further as reports said the Bank of Japan and the government would jointly set a two-percent inflation target following pressure from new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The two sides are to finalise a joint statement on monetary measures in time for the central bank's policy meeting on January 21-22, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

The euro has been surging since Thursday when ECB chief Mario Draghi said there was "a significant improvement in financial market conditions" in the single currency bloc.

On foreign exchange markets in Asian afternoon trade, the euro was at $1.3387, compared to $1.3341 in the US late Friday. The dollar was at 89.61 yen from 89.18 yen, and the euro traded at 119.96 yen from 119.00 yen.

Oil was up. New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, rose 69 cents to $94.25 a barrel in the afternoon, and Brent North Sea crude for February delivery gained 43 cents to $111.07.

Gold was at 1,666.83 at 0710 GMT compared with $1,669.80 late Friday.

In other markets:

-- Wellington rose 0.54 percent, or 22.16 points to 4,153.92.

Fletcher Building was up 1.61 percent at NZ$8.86, Telecom Corp rose 1.08 percent to NZ$2.335 and The Warehouse gained 0.66 percent to NZ$3.07.

-- Taipei was flat, edging up 4.82 points to 7,823.97.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co gained 1.0 percent at Tw$102.0 while leading smartphone maker HTC rose 5.1 percent to Tw$291.0.

--

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