Asian shares gain on tech earnings; Europe down

BANGKOK (AP) — World stock markets were mixed Wednesday, with Asia’s high-tech shares pushing higher after strong earnings from Apple Inc. and European indexes slightly lower amid efforts to tackle the region’s massive debt problem.

Oil prices rose to near $92 a barrel, underpinned by the rise in Asian stock markets and raised demand forecasts for this year. In currencies, the dollar weakened against the yen and the euro.

Investors in Europe were cautious as governments of the 17 countries using the euro common currency continued to work on overhauling measures to fight the region’s debt crisis. The crisis has already forced Greece and Ireland to implement painful budget cuts in exchange for multibillion dollar bailouts.

Britain’s FTSE 100 was down less than 0.1 percent to 6,050.89. Germany’s DAX was down marginally to 7,141.57. France’s CAC-40 dropped by 0.2 percent to 4,006.77.

Wall Street was set for a lower opening, with Dow futures down narrowly to 11,808 and S&P 500 futures lower by 0.2 percent to 1,292.60.

Stocks shone in Asia, however, with the electronics sector bolstering benchmarks in Japan and Korea.

South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.9 percent to a record high close of 2,115.69. Market bellwether Samsung Electronics Co gained 2.9 percent to an all-time high finish of 997,000 won after briefly touching the 1 million won level for the first time.

Asian “markets are taking their queue from the U.S. We are in results seasons, and some have beaten forecasts,” said Lee Kok Joo, head of research at Phillip Securities in Singapore. “The most prominent one is Apple. Indications are that the retail market was very strong in the last quarter of last year. Consumers are spending.”

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average added 0.4 percent to 10,557.10, with Hitachi Ltd. up 3.8 percent in Tokyo.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index climbed 1.1 percent to 24,419.62 on robust gains by property shares. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.7 percent to 4,834.60.

Chinese shares rebounded in active trading with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index jumping 1.8 percent to 2,758.10. The Shenzhen Composite Index for China’s smaller, second exchange rocketed 2.4 percent to 1,211.64.

High speed rail shares surged, boosted by China’s progress on a bid for a U.S. high-speed rail project. China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co., or CSR, hit the daily limit of 10 percent while North Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co., or CNR, also surged 10 percent.

Apple produced stellar holiday-quarter results by boosting production of iPads faster than analysts predicted, and shoppers bought iPhones as fast as Apple could make them, helping drive the company’s fiscal first-quarter net income up 78 percent from the prior year.

Apple’s newest product, the iPad tablet computer was one of the hottest gifts over the holidays. Apple sold 7.3 million of them — a million more than analysts expected.

Many observers are waiting for earnings season to move into full swing before making conclusions about the actual condition of the U.S. economy. Later Wednesday, EBay Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. release quarterly results. Markets were also anticipating the U.S. Commerce Department’s release of housing starts for December.

In New York on Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average hit its highest close since June 2008, led by Boeing Co. and Caterpillar Inc. The two companies contributed more than half of the Dow’s 50 point rise.

The Dow rose 50.55 points, or 0.4 percent, to finish at 11,837.93. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged up 1.78, or 0.1 percent, to close at 1,295.02. The Nasdaq rose 10.55, or 0.4 percent, to 2,765.85.

Apple had weighed on the Nasdaq after the company announced that its charismatic CEO Steve Jobs was taking another medical leave. Its shares fell 2.2 percent but that was offset when the company announced its earnings after the market closed.

In currencies, the dollar fell to 82.15 yen from 82.59 yen late Tuesday. The euro rose to $1.3446 from $1.3387.

Benchmark crude for February delivery was up 34 cents at $91.72 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract, which expires this week, fell 16 cents to settle at $91.38 on Tuesday.