Asian Stock Markets Hit Record Highs

ASIAN stock markets closed higher yesterday, with Hong Kong's key index breaking through the 12,000 mark for the first time. Share prices also closed at record highs in Manila, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Markets remained closed in Tokyo, Sydney, Wellington, New Zealand, Taipei, Taiwan, and Bangkok for the New Year's holidays. The Hang Seng Index, the Hong Kong market's key blue-chip indicator, rose 198.10 points, or 1.7 percent, closing at 12,086.49, the Associated Press reports. Brokers attribute the rise to continued overseas buying.

Investors remained confident in the strength of the Hong Kong and Chinese economies, and the Sino-British dispute over political reforms is having little impact on the market, they say. Federated Tries On Macy's

Federated Department Stores Inc. is spending nearly half a billion dollars to buy the debt of R. H. Macy and Co. Inc., in the hopes that the two companies can combine to form the biggest United States retailer, the Associated Press reports.

Federated's management, which helped bring Federated itself through a bankruptcy reorganization in 1992, said Sunday it realizes that the complex bankruptcy reorganization that Macy's is undergoing may not allow an opportunity for the union.

Any such outcome would require approval of other creditors and US Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland, the New York judge overseeing Macy's Chapter 11 reorganization.

Federated said it closed a deal Friday with Prudential Insurance Co. of America to spend $449.3 million for half of the secured claim Prudential holds in the Chapter 11 reorganization of Macy's. Federated also took an option to buy the rest of Prudential's claim in Macy's within three years. Students Are a Good Bet

College students are more credit responsible than the rest of the population, says Maria Rullo, a Citibank spokeswoman. They seem to understand that this is their first opportunity to establish a credit history that will effect them in the future when they buy a car or a house, she says.

This surprising finding has spurred Citibank's own program to bring students on board in the hopes of keeping them as customers once they graduate. ``College students generally - compared to a college student of 10 years ago - are more involved with their own personal finances,'' Ms. Rullo says. The main reason is the high cost of tuition, which more students are helping to pay for.

Citibank MasterCard and Visa - America's largest issuer of bank cards - has developed ``Max Moore, Detective in Moneytown,'' a financial education program aimed at college students.

Launched in the fall at more than 600 colleges and universities nationwide, Citibank's program consists of public service announcements broadcast on college radio stations and published in college newspapers.

Written with tongue-in-cheek humor, they include ``The Case of the Creeping Balance,'' which highlights the importance of tracking one's credit card spending and ``The Case of the Five Finger Fraud,'' which warns students about telemarketing scams.

More than 50 percent of college students have at least one credit card, according to Citibank data.

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