Asia stocks rise after Greece sets election date


BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stocks were mostly higher Thursday as markets adjusted to Greece’s possible exit from the euro common currency and traders hunted for bargains after sharp selling in recent days.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 climbed 0.6 percent to 8,849.38 after the country posted better-than-expected growth figures for the first quarter. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.7 percent to 19,396.96 and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.7 percent to 1,853.70.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and mainland China also rose. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.2 percent to 4,158.90, dragged down by financial stocks.

Greece called a new round of elections for June 17 after coalition talks to form a government fell apart. The president said depositors were pulling hundreds of millions of euros out of banks, weakening the country’s strained financial system.

The developments fueled fears that Greece would exit the euro currency and shake global markets. In elections earlier this month, Greek voters punished parties that supported tough austerity measures needed to secure international bailout money.

But analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said the scheduling of new Greek elections suggested "a reduction in near-term uncertainties" that could lead to some relief for volatile markets.

Additional support for markets came from investors looking for stocks at reduced prices.

"After falling almost 2,000 points in the last two days, the (Hong Kong) market is seriously oversold. It represents very good value for anybody who wants to go bottom-fishing," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings. "So it is bargain-hunting that helps stabilize the market today."

Positive news on the U.S. economy also underpinned sentiment in Asia. Construction of homes in April rose 2.6 percent from March, and U.S. factory production increased 0.6 percent in April, helped by a gain in auto production.

Some Japanese stocks saw big gains amid news that the country’s economy grew at an annualized 4.1 percent for the January-March quarter thanks to a rebound in consumer spending.

Sharp Corp. jumped 4.3 percent and Mazda Motor Corp. shot up 4.7 percent. Steel company JFE Holdings added 4.2 percent.

In the U.S. on Wednesday, stock markets fell on worries over Greece. The Dow closed down 0.3 percent at 12,598.55. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index finished down 0.4 percent at 1,324.80. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.7 percent to 2,874.04.

Benchmark oil for June delivery was up 42 cents to $93.23 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the contract fell by $1.17 to finish at a seven-month low of $92.81 per barrel in New York.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2740 from $1.2725 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 80.25 yen from 80.29 yen.

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