| Updated at: 1543 PST, Tuesday, December 07, 2010|
HONG KONG: Asian markets were mostly higher Tuesday as dealers brushed off a report that China will hike interest rates soon, but Japanese shares sank as the yen surged against the dollar.
The dollar hit a three-week low against the Japanese unit following comments by US Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke that the bank could pump more money into the economy.
Shanghai ended the day 0.65 percent, or 18.68 points, higher at 2,875.86. The index bounced back from heavy losses earlier in the session caused by a report in the state-run China Securities Journal saying that the central bank may raise rates as early as the weekend, just ahead of the release of inflation data on Monday.
A hike would be the second in two months by China as it tries to combat rising inflation and the report comes after the politburo on Friday said it would shift its monetary policy stance from "relatively loose" to "prudent". Beijing raised rates for the first time in three years in October as prices surged past the government's ceiling of three percent.
Despite the initial concerns over a rate hike, analysts said the market had already priced in such a move over the past few weeks, while higher gold prices sent miners rallying.
Hong Kong closed up 0.82 percent, or 190.46 points, at 23,428.15 and Sydney gained 0.81 percent, or 38.2 points, to 4,726.8. Seoul added 0.45 percent, or 8.88 points, to 1,962.52. However, a strengthening yen sent Tokyo down 0.26 percent, or 26.13 points, to 10,141.10 after Bernanke's comments.
The Fed chief told CBS television Sunday that "it's certainly possible" the bank might inject into markets more than the 600 billion dollars decided on last month. "It depends on the efficacy of the programme. It depends on inflation. And finally it depends on how the economy looks," he added in the interview recorded last week.
With the prospect of a flood of more dollars, the greenback tumbled to a three-week low against the yen in Asian trade, hitting 82.30 before climbing back to 82.63, compared with 82.67 in New York Monday.
In early European trade the dollar was at 82.60.
"There was a widespread view for a shift towards the weaker yen, but that storyline collapsed following the (weak) US jobs data," on Friday, said Yutaka Yoshii, general manager at Mito Securities. Markets got a weak cue from New York, where the Dow edged down 0.05 percent on eurozone concerns as well as Bernanke's comments. Sydney shares were boosted after the central bank put interest rates on hold, citing the strong Australian dollar and European debt problems, and suggested another hike would not come until the second quarter of next year.
European debt woes returned after Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker said Monday after a Brussels meeting that EU finance chiefs saw no need for "immediate action" to bolster a trillion-dollar EU-IMF fund for countries in trouble. His comments come amid fears that the debt crisis that last month claimed Ireland as its latest victim threatens to spread, notably to Portugal and Spain.
Juncker said ministers concluded that the "priority now" was for states to accelerate budgetary consolidation.
Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager insisted: "It's easy to speculate on more rescue money and eurobonds, but I want to talk prevention now instead."
The euro bounced back from earlier lows and was changing hands at 1.3345 dollars, up from 1.3304 dollars in New York late Monday. It stood at 110.27 yen from 109.96 yen.
On oil markets, New York's main contract, light sweet crude for January delivery, slid 24 cents to 89.14 dollars a barrel in the afternoon and Brent North Sea crude for January fell 43 cents to 91.02 dollars.
"The whole market is reacting on the downside because the Chinese central bank may be raising interest rates this weekend," said Serene Lim, oil and gas analyst for ANZ bank in Singapore.
Gold closed at 1,423.00-1,424.00 US dollars an ounce in Hong Kong, up from Monday's close of 1,416.00-1,417.00.
In other markets:
Taipei ended flat, edging up 2.16 points to 8,704.39. Hon Hai rose 0.44 percent to 113.5 Taiwan dollars while UMC fell 0.91 percent to 16.25.
Manila shed 0.60 percent, or 25.20 points, to 4,197.92. Aboitiz Power fell 4.0 percent to 33.60 pesos, while Metropolitan Bank dropped 1.82 percent to 72.85 pesos. Top-traded Alliance Global plunged 5.06 percent to 12 pesos.
Wellington closed 0.34 percent, or 11.34 points, lower at 3,281.86. Contact Energy fell 0.64 percent to 6.17 New Zealand dollars, Telecom slipped 1.4 percent to 2.15 and Air New Zealand rose 0.7 percent to 1.42.