Asian stocks gain ahead of central bank meetings

Asian stock markets were boosted Wednesday by hopes European central bankers will buoy economic growth with new stimulus measures.

Global equities and commodities have rallied so far this week amid growing expectations that policymakers will use fiscal and monetary stimulus to bolster flagging growth. The European Central Bank and the Bank of England are scheduled to meet Thursday, and analysts are expecting lending rate cuts or a boost of money in circulation.

Investors this week have brushed off signs of weakening economic growth, including reports that showed falling industrial production in the U.S. and China, the world's two biggest economies. Some analysts say investors may be expecting too much from possible stimulus measures.

"The markets are seemingly banking on European policymakers and the U.S. Fed to turn things around quickly," said Julian Jessop, an economist with Capital Economics. "However, at best, further monetary stimulus may limit the downside for the prices of riskier assets."

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.5 percent to 9,109.10 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.1 percent to 19.749.07.

South Korea's Kospi gained 0.3 percent to 1,872.90. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.8 percent to 4,158.20. China's Shanghai Composite fell 0.2 percent to 2,225.37.

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 0.6 percent at 12,943.82. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.6 percent to 1,374.02. The Nasdaq composite average added 0.8 percent to 2,976.08.

The Commerce Department said factory orders increased 0.7 percent in May from April while U.S. car companies said sales rose in June.

Trading volume was light as markets in the U.S. were open for only a half-day Tuesday and will be closed Wednesday for the Independence Day holiday. The government's June jobs report is due Friday and second-quarter corporate earnings start next week.

Benchmark oil for August delivery was down 21 cents at $87.45 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $3.91 to close at $87.66 in New York on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2592 from $1.2610 on Tuesday in New York. The dollar dropped to 79.74 yen from 79.87 yen.