Japan leads Asian shares higher as yen slides

Japan led gains in Asian stock markets Wednesday as the yen slid to a near three-year low following the early resignation of the Bank of Japan governor.

The Nikkei 225 stock index surged 3.1 percent, or 342.30 points, to 11,389.22 as export shares soared on expectations of stronger sales thanks to the yen's fall against other major currencies.

The Japanese yen was trading at 93.76 yen per U.S. dollar, its lowest level in almost three years after BOJ Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa announced he will step down three weeks early for logistical reasons. Some investors took it as sign that whoever replaces Shirakawa will be likely to comply with pressure from the government to ease monetary policy to help stimulate economic growth.

Shirakawa said he is stepping down in tandem with his top deputies on Mar. 19 instead of when his own five-year term ends on April 8 and that his decision was not motivated by political pressure. But the central bank has been perceived as resisting pressure for more drastic monetary easing, despite its agreement to set a 2 percent inflation benchmark as demanded by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 0.5 percent to 23,272.90 and South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 percent to 1,939.71. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.8 to 4,921.60. China's Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.1 percent to 2,431.86. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia rose.

"The recovery in overseas markets provided an excuse for the market to bounce back" after falls earlier in the week, said Kwong Man Bun, chief operating officer at KGI Securities in Hong Kong.

He said that strong gains in the Hong Kong market are partly being driven by higher liquidity thanks to the yen's weakness, which has brought on a flurry of carry trades in which traders borrow in a weaker currency with low interest rates, such as the yen, and use the funds to buy higher-risk shares in other markets, such as Hong Kong.

Wall Street and European stock markets pushed higher Tuesday after new indicators suggested the combined economy of the 17 euro countries is past the worst of its recession and the U.S. recovery remains on track.

A surge in U.S. home and stronger earnings helped push U.S. shares higher. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 99.22 points to 13,979.30, recovering much of what it lost Monday in the worst sell-off so far this year. The index traded above 14,000 during the day before falling back in the last hour.

The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 15.58 points to 1,511.29. The Nasdaq composite was up 40.41 points to 3,171.58.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for March delivery was down 3 cents to $96.61 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The euro was little changed at $1.3580.

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