HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stocks advanced Wednesday on investor optimism ahead of a European Central Bank meeting on bailout conditions for Greece, though trading was quiet as many markets were shut for the Lunar New Year.
KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 1 percent to 18,159.96, the highest level in seven and a half years. Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged up 0.2 percent to 24,823.80 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.9 percent to 5,910.20. Markets in mainland China are shut for the Lunar New Year holiday and exchanges in South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam were also closed. Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore were only open for morning trading, before closing Thursday and Friday.
GREECE JITTERS: European Central Bank officials will hold a regular meeting Wednesday to discuss conditions for providing Greece with emergency loans to keep the Mediterranean country in the euro currency zone. The country has endured five years of painful austerity and its bailout program ends Feb. 28. It's hoping to reach a last minute deal for a loan extension to avoid a potentially disastrous exit from the shared European currency.
ANALYST VIEW: "Investors also appear to be taking an increasingly relaxed attitude to negotiations over Greek debt," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. "This possibly reflects an assessment that the range of outcomes is not just a choice between benign and bad. A positive outcome that provides a better template for growth in the peripheral Euro nations could ultimately emerge from this process."
GLOBAL ECONOMY: Investors will also be examining policy statements from the U.S. and Japanese central banks. The Bank of Japan did not announce any further action to stimulate the economy following its policy meeting that ended Wednesday, but it slightly upgraded its assessment of Japan's economic outlook. Later Wednesday, the Federal Reserve's minutes from its January policy meeting are due out, and they're expected to use language signaling that the No. 1 economy's central bank is on track for a modest interest rate increase as early as June.
WALL STREET: U.S. stocks finished slightly higher as investors kept an eye on talks between Greece and creditors in hopes that a deal will be reached to keep the country from falling out of the euro. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 28.23 points, or 0.2 percent, to 18,047.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 3.35 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,100.34 and the Nasdaq composite rose 5.43 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,899.27.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil slipped 34 cents to $53.18 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 75 cents to close at $53.53 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 26 cents to $62.27 a barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 119.15 yen from 119.26 the previous session. The euro rose to $1.140 from $1.1403.