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Asian stocks consolidate gains from Bernanke boost

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July 11, 2013 11:30 PM EST | AP

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BANGKOK — Asian stock markets meandered Friday, largely holding on to gains sparked the day before by the Federal Reserve's vow to continue supporting the U.S. economy with low interest rates.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. needs "highly accommodative monetary policy" – or low interest rates – "for the foreseeable future." That reassured investors who were dismayed by Bernanke's comments last month that the Fed would likely slow its bond purchases later this year and end them around mid-2014 if the economy strengthens. Critics said the Fed bungled its communications strategy.

The Fed has been buying $85 billion of financial assets a month to keep interest rates low and encourage borrowing and spending. That stimulus has driven global stocks higher, so the prospect of reducing it caused market volatility in recent weeks.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index was almost unchanged at 14,472.85 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.2 percent to 21,394.82. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.7 percent at 5,000.20.

Benchmarks in China, South Korea and Singapore fell while Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia gained.

A rise in U.S. jobless claims figures – by 16,000 to a total of 360,000 – didn't affect markets much. The level is consistent with steady hiring, though the increase suggests the recovery is still not as fast as hoped.

Bernanke's comments boosted Wall Street to record highs Thursday.

The S&P 500 index jumped 22.40 points, or 1.4 percent, to 1,675.02, surpassing its previous record close of 1,669 from May 21. The index rose for a sixth straight day, its longest streak in four months.

The Dow rose 169.26 points, or 1.1 percent, to 15,460.92, above its own all-time closing high of 15,409 set May 28.

The Nasdaq composite rose 57.55 points, or 1.4 percent, to 3,578.30, its highest level in nearly 13 years.

In energy trading, benchmark oil for August delivery was down 13 cents at $104.78 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell $1.61 to close at $104.91 in New York on Thursday.

The euro fell to $1.3090 from $1.3095 late Thursday in New York. The dollar was little changed at 98.98 yen from 98.96 yen.