Asian stocks rise in thin trade, tracking Wall St gains

Asian markets rose in thin trade Monday ahead of the festive season, tracking cues from Wall Street where stocks surged in a Federal Reserve-fuelled "Santa Claus rally" last week.

Sydney surged 1.49 percent, Hong Kong gained 1.18 percent, Shanghai climbed 1.26 percent and Seoul added 0.28 percent.

Tokyo was flat by the break after the Bank of Japan gave a more upbeat view of the world's number three economy on Friday, saying exports were showing signs of picking up while factory output has started to "bottom out".

Trading is expected to be thin this week at the start of the holiday season, with many traders away for Christmas and New Year celebrations.

The gains in Asia come after US stocks went from famine to feast last week, starting out fearful of crashing oil prices and finishing it smiling at a "Santa Claus rally".

Worries about tumbling oil prices and the crashing Russian ruble, which has lost nearly half its value in 2014 compared with the dollar, prompted grim sentiment among investors.

But markets began reversing course as the US Federal Reserve left in place market expectations that it may raise interest rates only in the middle of 2015 -- and not sooner -- and gave a fairly upbeat assessment of the world's biggest economy.

Following a two-day meeting, Fed Chair Janet Yellen offered reassurances that sharply lower oil prices are a net-positive for the economy and that economic fallout from struggling Russia is likely to be limited.

US stocks rose for the third day in a row on Friday, with the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average closing up 0.15 percent at 17,804.80.

The broad-based S&P 500 rose 0.46 percent to 2,070.65, about five points below its record.

The dollar stayed firm after Yellen's comments. The greenback was at 119.46 yen early Monday compared with 119.43 yen in New York Friday afternoon.

The euro bought $1.2222 and 146.05 yen against $1.2227 and 146.06 yen in US trade.

On oil markets, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February delivery rose 28 cents to $57.41 while Brent crude for February gained 43 cents to $61.81.

Gold was at $1,197.34 an ounce, compared to $1,198.10 late Friday.

ac/lto