Markets in Asia pause for autumn festivals; Australia and Thailand advance

By Pamela Sampson, AP
Thursday, September 23, 2010

Major Asian markets on holiday; Australia gains

BANGKOK — Major stock markets in Asia were closed Thursday in observance of mid-autumn festivals, giving jittery investors time to absorb an announcement by the Federal Reserve that it is ready to take more action to help the ailing U.S. economy.

Among those that were open, Australia’s benchmark stock index edged up 0.1 percent to 4,628.8. Key indices in Thailand, New Zealand and the Philippines posted gains, while those in Singapore, India and Malaysia declined.

Markets in Japan, mainland China, Hong Kong and South Korea were closed for holidays.

The pause comes a day after most Asian benchmarks ended in negative territory. Japan, whose Nikkei 225 stock average was closed for Autumnal Equinox Day, closed down 0.4 percent at 9,566.32 Wednesday as the yen strengthened, with exporters, such as Toyota Corp. and Canon Inc. losing ground in particular.

In Sydney, shares of mining giant BHP Billiton were up 32 cents, or 0.82 percent, to AU$39.22 in afternoon trading. The rise comes despite an announcement Wednesday that Canada’s Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan had asked a U.S. court to block a $39 billion hostile takeover by BHP on the grounds BHP has made “false statements and half-truths.” BHP launched a hostile $130-per-share takeover bid last month after Potash directors rejected its offer as inadequate.

Malaysia’s bourse was lower Thursday with blue chips tumbling sharply amid a consolidation after the market hit a two-and-a-half year high earlier this week. Some construction stocks however, bucked the trend on expectations of gains from proposed infrastructure project in a 10-year economic blueprint unveiled Tuesday.

In New York on Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell as traders booked profits and then moved into Treasurys and gold. Major U.S. indexes soared in September - the Dow has risen 7.5 percent - as economic reports have consistently indicated the economy continues to grow, albeit slowly.

The Fed didn’t announce specific actions to strengthen the economy, but investors interpreted its statement as a signal that the central bank could step up its bond-purchasing program down the line. Investors had little incentive to move more money into stocks, so they turned their focus to bonds and gold.

The Fed is not alone in contemplating new monetary measures to boost the world’s No. 1 economy. The Bank of England is also seemingly paving the way for further action to support economic growth in Britain.

In currencies, the dollar strengthened slightly against the yen, to 84.57 from 84.52 on Wednesday, while the euro gained to $1.3392 from $1.3390 in New York late Wednesday.

Benchmark crude for November delivery was up 12 cents to $74.83 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost 26 cents to settle at $74.71 on Wednesday.

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