Asian stocks follow US higher as yen slips and bank earnings reassure investors

HONG KONG – Asian stocks advanced Thursday after a key U.S. benchmark climbed to a new high on strong earnings and economic data.

Regional investors were reassured after the S&P 500 closed at its highest level yet, squeaking past its previous record set less than a month ago. The rally was helped along by Bank of America, the country’s No. 2 bank, reporting that quarterly profits quadrupled.

A Federal Reserve survey that showed economic growth remained healthy also bolstered sentiment, as did optimistic comments about the state of the global economy by the World Bank and the head of the International Monetary Fund.

Japanese stocks rose, with the Nikkei 225 climbing 0.4 per cent to 15,874.92, on a weaker yen and Japanese machinery orders rising to a five-year high in November.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.4 per cent to 22,999.63 and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.3 per cent to 1,958.28. The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China edged up 0.2 per cent to 2,027.32 while Australia’s S&P ASX 200 jumped 0.9 per cent to 5,293.70.

In the U.S., the S&P 500 gained 0.5 per cent to close at 1,848.38, surpassing the previous high on Dec. 31, 2013. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 0.7 per cent to 16,481.94. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.8 per cent to 4,214.88.

In currencies, the dollar edged higher against the Japanese yen, coming close to the 105 yen level, as it strengthened to 104.85 yen from 104.72 in late trading Wednesday. A lower yen makes exports by the country’s manufacturing giants such as Sony and Toyota cheaper for buyers abroad.

The euro rose to $1.3619 from $1.3594.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for February delivery was up 8 cents to $94.25 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.58 to settle at 94.17 on Wednesday.