Asian stock markets rise as slump in energy prices promises economic boost

Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday as a slump in energy prices promised benefits for the region’s major economies.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average was up 0.7 per cent at 15,043.37 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.7 per cent to 23,201.11. China’s Shanghai Composite rose 0.4 per cent to 2,369.76. Seoul’s Kospi was down 0.3 per cent at 1,922.66 after the central bank cut its growth forecasts for this year and next. Markets in Southeast Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand were higher.

ENERGY SLUMP: The price of oil suffered its biggest drop in nearly two years after the International Energy Agency reduced its forecast for demand for this year and 2015. The benchmark U.S. crude futures contract fell $3.90 to close Tuesday at $81.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. That was the biggest drop since November of 2012, and it’s the lowest closing price since June of 2012. The contract was up 28 cents at $82.12 on Wednesday.

ASIA UPSIDE: Countries such as Japan, China, India, Indonesia and South Korea are major importers of oil and other fuels. They could benefit in multiple ways from a sustained drop in crude prices from improved trade balances to reduced subsidy bills. Lower overall energy prices could also flow through to higher disposable income for consumers.

THE QUOTE: “Lower energy prices are having a positive effect on the perception of improved real wages, i.e., inflation-adjusted wages, while many emerging markets are seeing increasing ‘real’ bond yields, which in turn could attract capital,” said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. “In the U.S., gasoline has fallen of late and should positively impact household wealth, which in turn should support future retail sales, promoting upside in GDP.”

WALL STREET: Hit by a drop in energy stocks, the Dow lost 5.88 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 16,315.19 on Tuesday. The S&P 500 index rose 2.96 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 1,877.70. The Nasdaq gained 13.52 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 4,227.17.

CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.2644 from $1.2638 late Tuesday. The dollar dropped to 107.23 yen from 107.30 yen.