Asia stocks up in quiet New Year trade

HONG KONG, Jan 02, 2015 (AFP) - Asian markets started 2015 on an upswing, mostly rising in limited trading on Friday, with many regional bourses still closed for public holidays.

Hong Kong was up 0.6 percent, adding 141.22 points to 23,746.26. Seoul was flat, edging up 1.06 points to 1,916.65, while Sydney was up 0.3 percent, or 16.5 points, at 5,427.5.

Singapore was little changed, slipping 0.91 points to 3,364.24.

Markets in mainland China, Japan, Taiwan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand were closed for holidays.

Volumes were low as traders began returning after the New Year break, with less than half the average quantity of shares changing hands in Sydney, Seoul, Hong Kong and Singapore, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"Volumes are abysmal and we're not taking much notice of today's price action," Michael McCarthy, Sydney-based chief market strategist at CMC Markets, told Bloomberg.

"We are expecting a volatile ride to play out this year."

On forex markets the dollar extended gains ahead of the release of American factory data and following a steady stream of good news from the world's biggest economy.

The dollar bought 120.37 yen, compared to 119.44 yen in final 2014 trading on Wednesday.

The euro meanwhile slipped amid growing expectations that the European Central Bank, which meets on January 22, will start buying sovereign bonds. The single currency bought $1.2058 compared to $1.2160 in pre-holiday trade.

Wall Street toasted a banner year in 2014, with US equity markets finishing near all-time highs.

The broad-based S&P 500 gained 210.54 points (11.39 percent) over the year to 2,058.90, easily outpacing forecasts that the index would gain only about six percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1,246.41 (7.52 percent) to 17,823.07, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 559.46 (13.40 percent) to 4,736.05.

Oil prices were up on Friday, with US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February delivery rising 80 cents to $54.07 and Brent crude for February gaining 71 cents to $58.04 in mid-morning trade.

"The gains in Asian trading are likely because of the positive US crude stockpiles data released on Wednesday," Daniel Ang, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore, told AFP.

US crude reserves fell by 1.8 million barrels in the week to December 26, the US Energy Information Administration said in its last petroleum report for 2014 released on Wednesday, boosting prices that lost nearly half their value in the second half of the year.

Gold was at $1,184.51 an ounce, compared with $1,199.00 in end-of-year trading on Wednesday.