HONG KONG – Asian markets were mostly higher Monday as investors digested Fed chief Janet Yellen's comments signaling U.S. interest rates were expected to rise sometime this year but when they did they would do so gradually.
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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index was up 0.5 percent to 19,378.52 while South Korea's Kospi gained 0.3 percent to 2,024.57. Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 1.2 percent to 24,792.41 while the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China rose 0.8 percent to 3,722.04. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 1.3 percent to 5,840.20. Southeast Asian benchmarks were higher while New Zealand declined.
FED IN FOCUS: Asian investors were getting their first chance to react to Yellen's comments on Friday. In a speech in San Francisco she said the time to start raising the key U.S. interest rate could occur "sometime this year," though she said that time has yet to arrive. She said the danger associated with raising rates too fast is greater than that of acting too slowly. A too-rapid approach could cause the economy too stall, she said.
THE QUOTE: "Friday's comments from Yellen successfully managed to frame where we are in terms of U.S. monetary policy, striking the middle path that we had expected," said Michel Every, head of Asia Pacific financial market research at Rabobank. "That's a far, far more cautious, data-dependent stance towards changes in the Fed Funds rate than some of the more gung-ho rhetoric that other Fed members have been coming out with recently."
WALL STREET: U.S. stocks ended the week quietly on Friday with the major indexes racking up modest gains after four previous days of losses. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.2 percent to 17,712.66. The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent to 2,061.02 and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.6 percent to 4,891.22.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 68 cents to $48.19 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 5 percent, or $2.56, to close at $48.87 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 40 cents to $56.01 in London.
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CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 119.23 yen from 119.13 in later trading Friday. The euro weakened to $1.0876 from $1.0891.