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Asian markets rise on hopes for ECB help

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ELAINE KURTENBACH | August 20, 2012 11:42 PM EST | AP

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TOKYO — Asian markets edged higher Tuesday in early trading on lingering hopes that the European Central Bank might buy bonds to help struggling European economies, and rumors of fresh stimulus measures from China.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.1 percent to 9,183.25, while South Korea's Kospi gained 0.5 percent to 1,955.40. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was almost unchanged at 20,096.92. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.7 percent to 4,393.70.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and mainland China also rose.

Investors remain cautious ahead of a pivotal week for Greece, whose leaders need to demonstrate progress in implementing economic reforms.

"The market is looking to see what is happening in Europe and mainland China. It is quite cautious and waiting for more news," said Linus Yip, a strategist with Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

Many market players are also awaiting the release later in the week of minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Earlier this month, stocks rallied after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the bank might buy bonds to help some European countries reduce their borrowing costs. Hopes for such help have persisted despite denials by ECB of such plans, and signs from Germany that it opposes such moves.

Gains in Japan were constrained by declines in makers of heavy machinery due to concerns over their sales outlooks. Kubota Corp. fell 0.8 percent while Komatsu Corp. dropped 2.4 percent.

Overnight, in the U.S. and Europe edged lower in quiet vacation-season trading.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.56 points, or 0.3 percent, at 13,271.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell a sliver, 0.03 point, to 1,418.13. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.38 point to 3,076.21.

In Europe, the FTSE-100 index of leading British companies closed 0.5 percent lower at 5,824.37 while Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent to 7,033.68. France's CAC-40 shed 0.2 percent to 3,480.58.

Investors are watching Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' visit this week to Germany and France, where he is expected to request an extension of Greece's deadline to meet fiscal targets as the country carries out painful reforms. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the eurozone finance ministers' meetings, will be in Athens on Wednesday to meet Samaras.

In China, the Shanghai Composite Index jumped 0.5 percent to 2,117.40 and the Shenzhen Composite Index climbed 1.3 percent to 890.36 following reports Chongqing, a huge metropolis in southwestern China, plans to spend 1.7 trillion yuan ($236 billion) to upgrade its manufacturing sector.

Crude oil fell 3 cents to $95.94 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 4 cents to $95.97 per barrel in New York on Monday.

In currencies, the euro was trading at $1.2356, up from $1.2348 late Monday in New York. The dollar fell to 79.35 yen from 79.43 yen.