Overseas stocks mixed as G20 officials meet

stocks up

BANGKOK Japan's benchmark stock index jumped Monday after Group of 20 finance officials refrained from directly criticizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government for trying to force down the yen. Other stock markets were mixed.

Currency policy was center stage at the weekend meeting in Moscow of finance ministers and central bankers from the world's 20 biggest advanced and emerging economies. Japan's currency was of particular interest because Abe has repeatedly said that he wants a cheaper yen to help manufacturers compete. Japanese exporters have long been unhappy with the yen's rise due to its status as a safe haven.

The absence of criticism left Abe room to pursue his agenda, analysts said.

"The lack of specificity will mean that the G20 statement will allow further unobstructed" yen weakness in the months ahead, Mitul Kotecha of Credit Agricole CIB said in a market commentary.

Stock markets in Europe fell in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.2 percent to 6,314.92. Germany's DAX rose 0.1 percent at 7,601.67. France's CAC-40 lost 0.2 percent to 3,652.35. Stock markets in the U.S. are closed for the Presidents Day holiday on Monday.

The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo surged 2.1 percent to close at 11,407.87. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.6 percent to 5,063.40. South Korea's Kospi was marginally higher at 1,981.91.

Mainland Chinese shares were mixed after a weeklong break for Lunar New Year. The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.5 percent to 2,421.56. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index rose nearly 0.1 percent to 970.09. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.3 percent to 23,381.94.

"Today there is some softening but not large selling pressure," said Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. "The U.S. stock market will be closed, so maybe market sentiment may be a little more cautious."

Among individual stocks, BlueScope Steel soared 15.4 percent after the Australian steelmaker reported a $12 million loss for the first half of the fiscal year, an improvement from a $530 million loss a year earlier. The company said earnings were expected to continue improving.

Chinese banking shares wilted. Hong Kong-listed Agricultural Bank of China fell 1 percent, while Industrial & Commercial Bank of China fell 0.7 percent.

Last week, the yen fell to a near three-year low against the dollar and the euro. The yen has been steadily declining since December because of expectations that Japan's central bank would take action resulting in a weakening of the yen.

Since the start of the financial crisis, central banks around the world have been trying to stimulate their economies by keeping interest rates extremely low to encourage consumers and businesses to borrow and spend. One way central banks drive down rates is to use their power to print money to buy up large quantities of bonds.

Several developing economies have recently criticized the U.S. program of quantitative easing for pushing up the value of their currencies. By buying up bonds, the U.S. Federal Reserve has also increased the amount of money in circulation. This has had the side-effect of driving down the value of the U.S. dollar relative to others.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was down 24 cents to $95.62 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.45 to close at $95.86 a barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3340 from $1.3355 late Friday in New York. The dollar rose to 94.03 yen from 93.40 yen.