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Asia stocks gain as China slows less than expected

By Pamela Sampson
AP Business Writer / January 16, 2012
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BANGKOK—Asian stock markets rose Tuesday, buoyed by a successful sale of French government bonds and China's economic growth slowing less than expected.

Benchmark oil rose to near $100 per barrel, while the dollar fell against the yen and the euro.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index added 0.8 percent to 8,447.77. Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 1.9 percent at 19,373.30 and South Korea's Kospi jumped 1.6 percent to 1,889.09. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 1.5 percent to 4,210.70.

Shares in mainland China briefly slipped into negative territory before recovering after the release of government figures showing that growth in the world's second-largest economy slowed in the final quarter of 2011 to 8.9 percent, its lowest rate in 2 1/2 years.

Markets welcomed the news, however, as growth was expected to settle at 8.7 percent, analysts said.

"That means China's economy is not slowing down as quickly as expected. That gave an overall boost to market sentiment," said Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong.

Other key benchmark stock indexes posted gains, buoyed by a strong sale of French bonds on Monday and taking a downgrade of the Europe's emergency bailout fund in stride. Stocks in Singapore, Taiwan, India, Indonesia and New Zealand rose.

France easily sold about euro 8.6 billion ($10.9 billion) of debt with very short maturities, as well as 25-week and 51-week bonds.

On the secondary markets, where the issued bonds are later traded openly, the interest rate on France's benchmark 10-year bond fell, indicating investors feel France remains a relatively good bet -- and perhaps are paying less heed to ratings agencies.

Analysts at Credit Agricole CIB said in an email that "given extremely bearish market sentiment, the market appears to absorb good news more easily and any good news may boost risk appetite with short-covering rallies."

Investor sentiment still faces multiple headwinds -- the latest being Standard & Poor's downgrade of the eurozone's rescue fund by one notch to AA+. While that could hurt the fund's ability to raise cheap bailout money to resolve the continent's debt crisis, Credit Agricole said the development had largely been priced in to the market.

U.S. markets were closed Monday for a public holiday.

In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.2731 from $1.2670 late Friday in New York. The dollar fell to 76.70 yen from 76.96 yen.

Benchmark oil for February delivery jumped $1.28 to $99.98 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 40 cents to settle at $98.70 in New York on Friday.

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