• Asia stocks mostly up before Greek reform

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    TOKYO: Asian stocks mostly rose on Tuesday as investors awaited details of a Greek reform package crucial to an extension of its bailout, while Fed chair Janet Yellen’s upcoming Congressional testimony was also in focus.

    Tokyo added 0.74 percent, or 136.56 points, to end at 18,603.48, as a weaker yen lifted the benchmark Nikkei to a fresh 15-year high.

    Sydney closed up 0.32 percent, or 19.02 points, at 5,927, while Seoul finished the day 0.39 percent, or 7.73 points, higher at 1,976.12.

    Hong Kong bucked the upward trend as it fell 0.35 percent, or 86.89 points, to 24,750.07.

    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.

    After missing a Monday deadline, Greece delivered to Brussels on Tuesday what it called a “very comprehensive” list of reforms that Athens hopes will secure a four-month extension to its financial lifeline. The news sent the Athens stock market soaring seven percent.

    A conditional deal that would let Athens pay its bills and avoid a disastrous default is contingent on reforms deemed satisfactory by the so-called “troika”—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 ($270-billion) bailout program 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.

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

    “A more detailed reform program needs to be agreed by April,” Ray Attrill, global co-head of foreign exchange strategy at National Australia Bank, said in a 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 percent following lacklustre housing data on the eve of the Fed chief’s Congressional comments.

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

    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. She will give the central bank’s assessment of the US economy and possibly a fresh timeline for raising interest rates from near zero.

    In forex markets, the euro was slightly weaker at $1.1316 and 135.02 yen, against $1.1337 and 135.08 yen in New York.

    The dollar strengthened to 119.32 yen against 118.76 yen in US trade.

    Oil turned lower in Asia as a feeble rebound failed to take hold, with prices under pressure in an oversupplied market

    US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for April delivery was down 29 cents to $49.16. Brent crude for April fell 17 cents to $58.73 in afternoon trade, reversing gains in the morning.

    Gold fetched $1,197.76 an ounce, up from $1,193.04 late Monday.

    AFP

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