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Asia stocks up as Wall Street cheers housing data

CORRECTS CURRENCY TO EURO AGAINST YEN - Passers-by are reflected on an electronic stock board displaying the euro's quotation against the Japanese yen at a securities firm in Tokyo, Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012. CORRECTS CURRENCY TO EURO AGAINST YEN - Passers-by are reflected on an electronic stock board displaying the euro's quotation against the Japanese yen at a securities firm in Tokyo, Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
By Pamela Sampson
AP Business Writer / January 18, 2012
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BANGKOK—Asian stock markets rose Thursday as investors grew more comfortable with risk assets after surprisingly strong U.S. housing figures helped power Wall Street to its highest close since July.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index jumped 1.3 percent to 8,659.86. South Korea's Kospi rebounded 1.1 percent to 1,912.38 after a losing session Wednesday. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.1 percent at 19,893.66. Australia's S&P ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 4,231.50. Benchmarks in Singapore and mainland China, also rose.

Analysts said investors were becoming more comfortable with taking on risk despite multiple headwinds -- including a likely recession in Europe, a possible debt default by Greece and a warning from the World Bank on Wednesday of a possible slump in global economic growth.

"Evidence that markets are becoming increasingly resilient to bad news emerged from the muted reaction to sharp downgrades in growth forecasts by the World Bank," Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a research note.

Several encouraging signs pushed Wall Street higher on Wednesday, with the Standard & Poor's 500 index closing above 1,300 for the first time since July 28, and the Dow Jones industrial average finishing at its highest since July 25.

The National Association of Home Builders index, a measure of sentiment among builders, rose to its highest level since June 2007 as sales jumped. The index is rising, however, because builders are seeing a rise in people shopping for a home, not because they are seeing more sales.

Separately, the Federal Reserve said manufacturing rose 0.9 percent from November to December, the biggest gain since December 2010.

The Dow finished up 0.8 percent at 12,578.95. The S&P rose 1.1 percent to 1,308.04. The Nasdaq composite index rose 1.5 percent to 2,769.71.

Benchmark oil for February delivery rose 78 cents to $101.37 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 12 cents to $100.59 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2861 from $1.2841 late Wednesday in New York.

The dollar fell to 76.72 yen from 76.80 yen.

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