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Asian stock markets eke out slight gains after solid Wall Street session

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TOKYO - Asian stock markets got a slight boost Wednesday from positive U.S. economic figures that reinforced expectations of eventual Fed rate hikes and a stronger dollar.

KEEPING SCORE: Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.1 per cent at 25,154.62 while Japan's Nikkei 225 was little changed at 15,441.70. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was also flat while Southeast Asian markets advanced. Taiwan's Taiex rose 0.4 per cent to 9,278.81 while Seoul's Kospi shed 0.1 per cent to 2,068.73.

US OUTLOOK: Signs that inflation is in control in the U.S., as well as fairly positive earnings reports and other indicators of a healthy economy, are helping Asian shares. Recent data on housing has reassured regional markets that the U.S. growth is on a relatively solid track. Also helping Asian shares are positive news from Home Depot, the largest U.S. home improvement retailer, which raised its annual profit forecast after reporting strong earnings results.

FEDERAL RESERVE: It's unclear when the U.S. Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates but many analysts predict sometime in 2015. That could be a plus for countries such as Japan, where giant exporter have much to gain from a strong dollar. Eyes are on a speech later in the day by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, as well as on the release of minutes from a previous Fed policy meeting.

ANALYST TAKE: "Traders will turn their attention to the FOMC minutes later tonight, recalling a less-hawkish-than-expected minutes in July, which led to a sell-off in the dollar," said Desmond Chua, market analyst with CMC Markets in Singapore. Traders were also expecting to get more of a clue about when the first interest rate hike might come, he added.

WALL STREET: The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 0.5 per cent to 1,981.60. The index is up 1.4 per cent for the week and is approaching its record close of 1,987.98 reached July 24. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.5 per cent to 16,919.59. The Nasdaq composite climbed 0.4 per cent to 4,527.51.

CURRENCIES. The dollar has surged recently to near 103 yen levels, and was trading at 103.19 yen, up from 102.95 yen late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.3308 from $1.3322.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude for September delivery was up 49 cents at $94.97 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It dropped sharply Tuesday and is down nearly 4 per cent for August due to ample supplies. The September contract expires Wednesday. The more actively traded October contract was down 6 cents at $92.80 a barrel.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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