Asian markets up after Bernanke comments

Asian markets edged up on Thursday after a cautiously upbeat assessment of the US economy by the Federal Reserve and comments from its chairman that he would provide more support if necessary.

Earlier gains were pared as dealers await a Bank of Japan policy meeting on Friday, while ongoing concerns about Europe proved to be a weight on sentiment.

Tokyo was flat, adding 0.82 points to close at 9,561.83 as Nomura Holdings lost 2.32 percent to end the day at 336 yen after Japan's stock market regulator said it was probing the country's top brokerage.

Canon shares lost 2.23 percent to 3,715 yen, despite the high-tech giant saying Wednesday it was boosting its full-year profit outlook by about 17.0 percent to $3.6 billion.

Seoul gained 0.10 percent, or 2.06 points, to 1,964.04 and Sydney was 0.34 percent, or 14.8 points, higher at 4,375.2.

Hong Kong gained 0.79 percent, or 163.42 points, to 20,809.71 and Shanghai was was flat, edging down 2.17 points to 2,404.70.

While the Fed Wednesday said it would keep interest rates at super-low levels until at least 2014, it forecast the world's biggest economy would grow more than first stated this year while unemployment would continue to fall.

However, it held off unleashing any more stimulus measures for now, instead sticking to its current loosening policy despite recent data showing the big pick-up in job creation had slowed.

After the two-day meeting chairman Ben Bernanke said further spending would be "reckless" but added that he was ready to use whatever tools he had at his disposal at any moment.

"We would not hesitate to use them should the economy require that additional support," he said.

However, analysts remained cautious.

"Although the Fed has expressed a willingness to embark on further stimulus, in essence the central bank would need to see a deterioration in growth and weaker inflation to feasibly embark on another round of quantitative easing," Christopher Gore, a Melbourne-based currency analyst at Go Markets said in a note.

The Fed news boosted Wall Street's main indexes, which were already on a roll following spectacular first-quarter earnings reports from Apple and Boeing.

The Dow climbed 0.69 percent, the Nasdaq jumped 2.30 percent and the S&P 500 jumped 1.36 percent.

Eyes are now on Tokyo, where the Japanese central bank is likely to hold interest rates at near zero but markets are hoping for another liquidity injection as the economy's recovery stutters.

The Bank of Japan has already this year said it will pump tens of billions of dollars more into the the system to help businesses and try to dig the country out of a painful deflationary cycle.

The euro bought $1.3255 and 107.56 yen in early Asian trade, compared with $1.3215 and 107.49 yen.

The dollar was at 81.44 yen compared with 81.33 yen.

The greenback slipped as some investors sold their holdings, after betting wrongly that the unit would rise following a verdict in the case of ruling-party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, a dealer said.

One of the most powerful figures in Japanese politics, Ozawa is a staunch opponent of raising taxes to bring down the nation's massive debt, with dealers saying the verdict could impact bond prices and the yen.

A Tokyo court Thursday cleared him of charges that he was involved in false political fund reporting.

Nervousness about Europe continued after Britain said it had slipped back into recession as the economy contracted 0.2 percent in the January-March quarter following a 0.4 percent shrinkage in the previous three months.

An economy is in technical recession when it posts two consecutive quarters of contraction.

And across the Channel political uncertainty in France and the Netherlands has raised concerns about a fiscal pact agreed by the eurozone last year, while weak economic data has also hit confidence.

On oil markets New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in June, rose 13 cents to $104.25 per barrel in the afternoon. Brent North Sea crude for June delivery rose eight cents to $119.20.

Gold was at $1,651.50 an ounce at 0800 GMT, compared with $1,640.25 late Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Taipei fell 0.55 percent, or 41.83 points, to 7,521.35.

Acer fell 1.33 percent to Tw$33.45 while UMC was 0.34 percent higher at Tw$14.95.

-- Manila closed 0.27 percent, or 14.13 points, higher at 5,218.97 to a new record high.

Philex Mining was up 7.02 percent at 25.90 pesos while subsidiary Philex Petroleum gained 35.8 percent to 33 pesos. DMCI Holdings bucked the trend to fall 3.88 percent to 60.55 pesos.

-- Wellington ended flat, edging 0.97 points up to 3,520.82.

Contact Energy rose 0.63 percent to NZ$4.76, Fletcher Building was 0.16 percent lower at NZ$6.18 and Telecom fell 1.90 percent to NZ$2.58.

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