Wall Street, ECB give Asian stocks a boost

BEIJING - Asian stock markets mostly rose Monday following Wall Street's strong gains last week and the chief European central banker's comment that the ECB will consider more stimulus.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was little changed at 22,748.63 while Seoul's Kospi gained 0.8 percent to 2,004.80. The Shanghai Composite Index added 0.4 percent to 3,644.70 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.4 percent to 5,276.40. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday. Markets rose in Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines while Singapore fell.

U.S. stocks looked set for a muted open: Dow futures added 0.1 percent, and broader S&P 500 futures were flat.

Investors were encouraged by comments Friday from the head of the European Central Bank that it "will not hesitate" to expand stimulus if needed to support a recovery. Mario Draghi's speech at a banking forum in Frankfurt reinforced earlier statements taken by markets as a green light for the bank to take action at the Dec. 3 meeting of its governing council. Economic activity in the 19 countries that use the euro currency grew at a slower-than-expected 0.3 percent in the third quarter from the previous quarter. The ECB could increase its 1.1 trillion euro ($1.2 trillion) program of bond purchases or lower its rate on money deposited at the ECB by banks farther into negative territory.

U.S. stocks recorded their best week this year on gains by retailers and technology companies as investors put jitters about the Paris attacks behind them. On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.5 percent and the Standard & Poor's 500 added 0.4 percent. The Nasdaq composite index gained 0.6 percent. Google's parent company, Alphabet, made its biggest gain in almost a month. Nike rose 5.5 percent after the footwear maker announced it will raise its dividend, buy back $12 billion of its own shares and split its stock.

Investors have gradually gotten used to the idea that the Federal Reserve is preparing to raise interest rates at its December meeting from record-low levels. They had been concerned, because higher rates can depress stock prices. But investors appear to have come around to seeing a possible hike as a positive sign that the Fed believes the economy is on solid footing.

"The market is looking beyond the first rate hike and focusing on Fed's reiteration that the pace of rate normalisation is going to be gradual, very very gradual," said Bernard Aw of IG Markets in a report. Minutes from Fed meetings "have hinted that the pace will be much slower than that of previous rate hike cycles," he said. "In that regard, despite the Fed potentially raising rates in December, it will still be considered as dovish," said Aw.

Benchmark U.S. crude was down 82 cents to $41.08 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 18 cents on Friday to close at $41.90. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 47 cents to $44.19 per barrel in London. The contract rose 48 cents the previous session to $44.60.

The dollar rose to 123.21 yen from 122.79 yen. The euro fell to $1.0610 from $1.0649.