Nikkei Gains on Stimulus Hope

HONG KONG (AP) -- Japanese stocks rose Wednesday as investors bet on another shot of stimulus from the country's central bank while other global benchmarks moved sideways ahead of U.S. growth figures and the Fed's latest policy decision.

KEEPING SCORE: European stocks were muted in early trading. France's CAC was up 0.2 percent to 4,854.40 and Germany's DAX gained 0.2 percent to 10,706.45. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped 0.1 percent to 6,358.75. U.S. stocks were poised for a flat open, with Dow futures practically unchanged at 17,513.00. Broader S&P 500 futures inched up 0.1 percent to 2,062.20.

RATE DEBATE: Investors were holding off from piling into stocks as they await the Federal Reserve's latest interest rate decision due at the end of its two-day meeting that began Tuesday. Expectations that the Fed will raise rates this year have diminished amid concern about a slower than expected U.S. economic recovery. However many investors also would prefer to see uncertainty resolved over when rates will be lifted from record lows. In contrast, hopes are rising that the Bank of Japan will expand its monetary stimulus when it holds its latest policy Friday as it tries to revive a stagnant economy.

US GROWTH: The U.S. economy has resembled a dizzying roller-coaster ride this year, with a hurtling dive followed by a steep climb leading to yet another slide. On Thursday, when the government issues its first of three estimates of growth in the July-September quarter, it's expected to show an economy slumping from global weakness and reduced corporate stockpiling.

ANALYST INSIGHT: "It is very unlikely that the Federal Open Market Committee would have contemplated a hike," analysts at Societe Generale said in a research note. "More critically, officials will have to decide whether they still consider a December rate hike as likely and, if so, come up with a game plan to prepare the markets."

ASIAN SCORECARD: Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.7 percent to close at 18,903.02 while South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.1 percent to 2,042.51. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.8 percent to 22,956.57 and the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China retreated 1.7 percent to 3,375.20. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.2 percent to 5,335.20. Benchmarks in Taiwan and Southeast Asia also fell.

ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude rose 7 cents to $43.27 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 78 cents to close at $43.20 in New York on Thursday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, rose 9 cents to $46.90 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 120.33 yen from 120.43 on Thursday. The euro slipped to $1.1035 from $1.1039.

(BAS)