Asian stocks gain after Fed chief hits rate rises may slow

Asian stocks followed Wall Street higher on Thursday after U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell suggested the pace of interest rate increases might slow.

KEEPING SCORE: The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.6 percent to 2,605.27 and Tokyo's Nikkei 225 advanced 0.9 percent to 22,378.46. Seoul's Kospi added 0.5 percent to 2,118.10 and Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.4 percent to 5,746.10. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.1 percent to 26,652.68 while benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia advanced.

FED WATCH: In a speech in New York, Powell said rates are close to neutral, the level at which they neither hold back growth nor aid it. Powell appeared to suggest the Fed might pause its cycle of interest rate increases next year to assess the effects of its actions. That relieved investors who feel the 9-year-old bull market could come to an end if rates rise too fast. The Fed cut rates to zero in 2008 during the global financial crisis but has been raising them since the end of 2015 and is expected to announce another increase next month.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks rocketed to their biggest gain in eight months following Powell's comments. The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged 617 points, 2.5 percent, to 25,366.43. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 2.3 percent to 2,743.79. The Nasdaq composite rose 2.9 percent to 7,291.59. Tiffany skidded 11.8 percent after it said foreign tourists, especially from China, didn't spend as much at its stores in its latest quarter.

CHINA-US TRADE: Three days before President Donald Trump is due to meet his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, the chief American trade envoy criticized Beijing's import taxes on American-made cars. Beijing cut auto import duties this year to 15 percent but added a 25 percent penalty on those from the United States in response to Trump's imposition of similar charges on Chinese goods in dispute over technology policy. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Chinese duties on American-made cars are "especially egregious," and said he would "examine all available tools" to equalize charges on auto imports.

ANALYST'S COMMENT: The mix of Powell's and Lighthizer's comments indicate "it's far too early to suggest that a Santa Clause rally is in the cards," said Stephen Innes of currency trader OANDA in a report. He said Lighthizer's statement reflected the Trump administration's "great ideological divide." Still, he said, "this dovish Fed lean is a fantastic cure-all for what ails stock markets sentiment."

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gained 38 cents to $50.67 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost $1.27 on Wednesday to close at $50.29. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 17 cents to $59.26 in London. The contract lost $1.31 the previous session to close at $59.09.

CURRENCY: The dollar declined to 113.43 yen from Thursday's 113.67 yen. The euro gained to $1.1377 from $1.1368.