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Asia: Stocks mixed ahead of Greek reforms, Fed chair remarks

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - 11:55
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[TOKYO] Asian stocks were mixed Tuesday as investors awaited proposed Greek reforms that are critical to winning an extension on its bailout, while US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's Congressional testimony was also in focus.

Tokyo's Nikkei index ticked up 0.13 per cent, Sydney edged 0.08 per cent higher, Seoul rose 0.51 per cent, while Wellington fell 0.56 per cent.

Hong Kong was down 0.51 per cent in morning deals while Taipei jumped 1.05 per cent in post-holiday trade.

Mainland Chinese markets are still closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

"Most investors are waiting for statements from the US financial authorities and the submission of Greece's economic policies," Toshihiko Matsuno, chief strategist at SMBC Friend Securities, told Bloomberg News.

Greece was to hand in a delayed list of proposed reforms Tuesday morning after missing a Monday deadline set by its international lenders.

A Greek government source insisted late Monday that the proposals would arrive in time for eurozone finance ministers to discuss them in a conference call on Tuesday afternoon.

However, a conditional deal that would give Athens a lifeline to pay its bills and avoid a disastrous default is contingent on it presenting reforms deemed satisfactory by the so-called "troika" of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Time is of the essence and the stakes are high, with Greece's current 240-billion euro (S$367 billion) bailout programme due to expire on Saturday and several European parliaments still needing to approve any extension.

If Athens fails to win more time and the bailout expires, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's month-old government risks running out of money, triggering a likely run on banks and even possible ejection from the 19-country eurozone.

But analysts warned that a bailout extension would only offer temporary relief.

"Even if agreed today, a more detailed reform programme needs to be agreed by April," Ray Attrill, global co-head of foreign exchange strategy at National Australia Bank, said in note.

"So whatever happens later today, the Greece issue cannot be... put to bed for another 3-4 months." Wall Street put in a mixed session on Monday with the Dow Jones Industrial Average losing 0.13 per cent following lacklustre housing data on the eve of the Fed chief's Congressional comments.

The broad-based S&P 500 slipped 0.03 per cent and the Nasdaq edged up 0.10 per cent.

US existing-home sales slowed to their lowest pace in nine months in January, according to the National Association of Realtors.

The disappointing figures come as Yellen gets set to appear Tuesday and Wednesday for twice-yearly Capitol Hill hearings that will give the central bank's assessment of the US economy and a possible fresh timeline for hiking interest rates from near zero.

In forex markets, the euro was steady at US$1.1329 and 134.97 yen, against US$1.1337 and 134.63 yen in New York.

The dollar strengthened to 119.13 yen against 118.76 yen in US trade.

Oil prices recovered slightly after sliding in the previous session owing to record-high US crude stockpiles, indicating weak demand in the world's top crude consumer, analysts said.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate rose 11 cents to US$49.56 while Brent crude gained 28 cents to US$59.18 in mid-day trade.

Gold fetched US$1,201.89 an ounce, up from US$1,193.04 late Monday.

AFP