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China stocks at 7-year high on stimulus hopes but other Asian benchmarks steady ahead of Fed

HONG KONG – Chinese stocks rose to the highest level in seven years Wednesday as investors held out hope authorities would unleash new economic stimulus while most other Asian indexes held steady before the conclusion of a key Fed meeting.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index edged up 0.3 per cent to 19,443.79 and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.2 per cent to 2,032.92. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 1 per cent to 24,146.02 and the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China gained 0.9 per cent to 3,532.99, the highest since April 2008. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.5 per cent to 5,811.30. Southeast Asian indexes were mostly lower.

CHINA BOOST: Chinese stocks are still riding high after Premier Li Keqiang said on the weekend that policymakers have enough room and tools to shore up economic growth if it falters. The latest sign of turbulence for the world’s No. 2 economy came in the form of monthly housing data. Average private housing prices fell February in 69 out of 70 cities over the year ago period, according to National Bureau of Statistics data.

FED WATCH: Investors are awaiting a Federal Reserve policy statement expected later Wednesday after the central bank wraps up a two-day meeting to discuss rates. Many economists expect it to change how it describes the time needed before it raises rates and signal that the first move will come in June, but others predict it will wait until later in the year.

ANALYST VIEW: The U.S. dollar and “stocks remain fixated on today’s FOMC decision, looking for signs of whether interest rate increases may start in June or not,” said Nicholas Teo, an analyst at CMC Markets Singapore. “In particular, traders may be looking for changes to the ‘patient’ language which has been signalling no changes planned for the next two meetings.”

WALL STREET: U.S. stock benchmarks closed mostly lower. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.7 per cent to 17,849.08 and the S&P 500 fell 0.3 per cent to 2,074.20. The Nasdaq composite edged up 0.2 per cent to 4,937.43.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 85 cents to $42.61 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 42 cents to $43.46 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 29 cents to $53.22 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar edged higher to 121.36 yen from 121.34 in late trading Tuesday. The euro strengthened to $1.0606 from $1.0595.