* Bernanke comments, stronger yen help sentiment
* KEPCO rises 5 pct, lifts utilities sector
* Auto-related shares gain; Kia up 1.7 pct
* Hyosung slumps 7.3 pct after Q4 results
By Somang Yang
SEOUL, Feb 27 (Reuters) - South Korean shares edged higher on Wednesday as the Federal Reserve’s commitment to monetary easing and a stronger yen increased investor interest.
The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI), which fell on Monday and Tuesday, rose 0.2 percent to close at 2,004.04 points.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke strongly affirmed the Fed’s bond-buying stimulus before the U.S. Congress, sending Asian shares higher on Wednesday.
While political uncertainty in Italy and looming U.S. spending cuts make some investors prefer safer assets than shares, “the KOSPI is still garnering interest as it has underperformed most major indices by 4 or 5 percent this year,” said Kim Joong-won, an analyst at NH Investment & Securities.
This year, the KOSPI is up only 0.35 percent, while the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index has risen 2 percent. The Nikkei has gained more than 8 percent this year.
Kim added that recent gains by the yen, which hit a one month high of 90.85 to the dollar on Monday, have increased the KOSPI’s appeal. A stronger yen is good news for South Korean exporters, which compete with Japanese counterparts.
In Seoul on Wednesday, utilities and auto sectors led the gains. State-owned utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) rallied up 5 percent, leading the sector’s 4.2 percent rise.
Auto shares also rebounded from the week’s early losses, with the sector sub-index rising 1.1 percent.
Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors were up 0.7 percent and 1.7 percent respectively. The two carmakers may be looking to settle lawsuits in the U.S. over misleading mileage claims.
Among daily movers, Hyosung Corp slumped 7.3 percent after announcing fourth-quarter results on Tuesday. Two local brokerages lowered their target price for the conglomerate, citing a slower-than-expected recovery.
Local institutions bought a net 66 billion won ($60.66 million) worth of KOSPI shares, buttressing the main board.
For the day, 463 shares advanced while 345 declined.
The KOSPI 200 benchmark of core stocks closed up 0.1 percent, while the junior KOSDAQ edged 0.9 percent higher.
Move on day +0.2 percent
12-month high 2,057.28 14 March 2012
12-month low 1,769.31 25 July 2012
Change on yr +0.35 percent
All-time high 2,231.47 27 April 2011
All-time low 93.10 6 January 1981 ($1 = 1088.0000 Korean won) (Editing by Richard Borsuk)