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Asian stocks rise as anxiety over banks starts to fade

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks rose Wednesday as anxiety about the global financial system began to fade following three high-profile bank failures.

Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney advanced. Shanghai followed Wall Street lower. Oil prices gained.

Fears global banks might be cracking under the strain of interest rate hikes to cool inflation temporarily pushed aside unease about slowing economic growth. Some calm has returned after regulators announced measures to shore up the system.

“Clearly, investors have not completely lost their anxiety,” said Robert Carnell and Min Joo Kang of ING in a report.

The Shanghai Composite Index lost less than 0.1% to 3,243.06 while the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo gained 0.8% to 27,728.70.

The Hang Seng in Hong Kong jumped 1.9% to 20,165.60 after Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group announced plans to split into six units in an effort to become more agile and unlock value for investors. It said they would include e-commerce, entertainment and logistics.

The Kospi in Seoul was unchanged at 2,435.60 while Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 advanced 0.2% to 7,050.30.

India’s Sensex opened up 0.3% at 57,807.62. New Zealand declined while Southeast Asian markets rose.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index dipped 0.2% on Tuesday to 3,971.27.

Most stocks in the index gained, but that was offset by big declines for some banks and modest losses for tech shares. First Republic fell 2.3% and PacWest Bancorp. was down 5%. Apple and Microsoft declined.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1% to 3,394.25. The Nasdaq composite lost 0.4% to 11,716.08.

The failure of two U.S. banks and one in Switzerland creates a dilemma for central bankers who are trying to cool economic activity and bring down inflation that is near multi-decade highs.

The Federal Reserve and central banks in Europe and Asia usually would respond by hiking rates again. But the bank failures showed institutions are vulnerable after earlier hikes caused prices of bonds and other assets on their books to fall.

Traders placed bets Tuesday that the Fed will raise rates at its next meeting in May, though the slight majority still expects it to hold rates steady. Traders are still largely betting the Fed will have to cut rates as soon as this summer to prop up the economy.

Reports on the U.S. economy have been coming in mixed. The job market remains remarkably solid, while smaller corners of the economy have been showing more weakness.

A report Tuesday showed consumer confidence is strengthening, contrary to expectations.

Another report suggested U.S. home prices softened in January from December, but not as much as economists expected.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude advanced 51 cents to $73.71 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 39 cents on Tuesday to $73.20. Brent crude, the price basis for international oil trading, added 28 cents to $74.82 per barrel in London. It gained 53 cents the previous session to $78.65.

The dollar gained to 131.71 yen from Tuesday’s 130.80 yen. The euro declined to $1.0839 from $1.0842.

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