Asia shares mostly higher after US holiday; BOJ stands pat

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A woman wearing a face mask walks past a bank’s electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. Asian shares were mostly higher Tuesday in the absence of big market-moving news following a national holiday in the U.S. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly higher Tuesday in the absence of big market-moving news following a national holiday in the U.S.

The Bank of Japan wrapped up a two-day policy meeting with no major changes. The benchmark interest rate remains at a longstanding minus 0.1%.

Benchmarks in Japan, China and Australia rose in early trading, but shares fell in South Korea. U.S. futures edged higher. U.S. markets were closed Monday for Martin Luther King Day.

Japan’s central bank’s super-easy monetary policy had been expected to stay unchanged for the time being, as the nation grapples with surging cases of COVID infections set off by the omicron variant.

The recent sudden increase in reported cases is likely to crimp economic activity. Japan, which has not had any lockdowns, has gone through periods of restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19, mostly having restaurants and bars close early. Such restrictions are expected to expand this week to about a third of the nation, including Tokyo.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.9% to 28,593.40. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.1% to 7,424.60. South Korea’s Kospi edged down 0.1% to 2,887.47. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.3% to 24,296.64, while the Shanghai Composite rose 0.4% to 3,554.23.

Asia has lagged the West in vaccine boosters. About 80% of the Japanese population, for instance, have received two shots, and about 1% the third inoculation.

Signs of inflation are also worrying policy makers. Price increases in Japan have been less pronounced than it is in the U.S. and some other nations, though the central bank raised its inflation forecast for the fiscal year that begins in April to 1.1% from a previous estimate of 0.9%.

Worries are high that rising COVID cases may hurt manufacturing in Asian nations, especially China.

Earlier this week, China reported its economy expanded at an 8.1% annual pace in 2021. The weakness in China’s economy toward the end of 2021 has set off suggestions Beijing should prop up growth with interest rate cuts or public works spending.

“Overall sentiments may still lean towards some cautiousness, as some market participants may refrain from taking on more risks. This comes amid a quiet U.S. calendar ahead and the absence of comments from Fed officials going into the FOMC meeting next week,” said Yeap Jun Rong, market strategist at IG in Singapore.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.12 to $84.94 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained $1.70 to $83.82 per barrel on Monday.

Brent crude, the international standard, added 95 cents to $87.43 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar rose to 114.73 Japanese yen from 114.62 yen. The euro cost $1.1422, up from $1.1410.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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