Stock Markets in Asia Bounce Back Slightly

HONG KONG (AP) - Asian stock markets recovered modestly
Wednesday as hopes China would expand measures to revive its
economy countered growing signs of economic decay in the U.S. and
other major countries.

The upward move followed heavy selling over the last two days
and bucked a fifth-straight day of declines on Wall Street.

Chinese shares led the region's advance on speculation the
country's leaders would unveil new initiatives to bolster the
world's third-largest economy, its growth now sputtering, at a
legislative meeting that opens Thursday. That gave a boost to other
Asian markets, including Japan and Hong Kong.

Also helping sentiment were figures that Chinese manufacturing,
while contracting again in February, did so at a slower rate than
the previous month. For many investors, the news fed hopes that
Chinese demand and growth can help bring about a quicker end to
worst global slowdown in decades.

Optimism over China helped offset more economic gloom elsewhere,
this time in Australia, whose economy shrank 0.5 percent in the
last quarter of 2008. The contraction, which surprised economists,
was the country's first in almost eight years.

Despite the gains, trade was listless, and analysts were bracing
for more selling that could lead Asian benchmarks to test lows
reached last year at the height of the credit crisis.

"There are still too many uncertainties," said Peter Lai,
investment manager at DBS Vickers in Hong Kong. "The news around
the world is still bad and investors are still pessimistic. People
are waiting for good news, but no one knows when that's coming."

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 stock average was up 85.41 points, 1.2
percent, to 7,315.13, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 80.38, or
0.7 percent, to 12,114.26. South Korea's Kospi jumped 3.6 percent
to 1,062.18.

In mainland China, Shanghai's index advanced 74.82, or 3.6
percent, to 2,145.56.

Overnight in the U.S., Wall Street fluctuated throughout the day
before closing down after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
said economic recovery depends on the government's ability to
stabilize weak financial markets.

Investors were also depressed by new figures showing U.S. auto
sales hovered near historic lows last month.

The Dow fell 37.27, or 0.6 percent, to 6,726.02, its lowest
close since April 21, 1997. The index is now down more than 52
percent from its record of 14,164.53 set in October 2007.

Broader stock indicators also fell. The S&P 500 index slid 4.49,
or 0.6 percent, to 696.33.

U.S. futures pointed to a modestly higher open Wednesday. Dow
futures rose 61, or 0.9 percent, at 6,730 and S&P500 futures gained
7.6, or 1.1 percent, to 697.10.

Oil prices weakened in Asian trade, with benchmark crude for
April delivery down 26 cents to $41.39 a barrel by midday in
Singapore on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose
$1.50 to settle at $41.65 overnight.

In currencies, the dollar was little changed at 98.34 yen
compared to 98.43 yen. The euro fell to $1.2493.

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