Asian stocks mostly higher on US recovery optimism

Asian stocks mostly higher, following Wall Street gains on optimism about US recovery

Associated Press
World stocks rise on hopes for Greece, US economy
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A man walks in front of the electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. Asian stocks rose strongly on Friday after encouraging U.S. housing and employment reports sent Wall Street to its highest level this year and added to growing optimism of a recovery in the world's No. 1 economy. Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index jumped 1.9 percent to 9,412.27. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

HONG KONG (AP) -- Asian stocks were mostly higher Friday after encouraging U.S. housing and employment reports sent Wall Street to its highest level this year and added to growing optimism of a recovery in the world's No. 1 economy.

Oil extended gains above $102 a barrel and the dollar strengthened against the euro and yen.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index jumped 1.7 percent to 9,397.57. Seoul's Kospi rose 1.5 percent to 2,027.81 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.7 percent to 21,425.93.

Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.3 percent to 4,195.80. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore and New Zealand also rose.

Investors in Asia took heart following solid gains on U.S. markets on Thursday that also pushed away fears that long-running bailout talks for debt-stricken Greece might collapse and result in the country defaulting on its debts next month.

Stocks rose after reports showed unemployment benefit applications dropped for the fourth time in five weeks to a four-year low and a rise in building permits suggested growing confidence about homebuying.

"All the data coming out from the U.S. is good, especially last night the job data was surprising," said Jackson Wong, a vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong.

Investors are also growing more upbeat ahead of a meeting Monday at which European finance ministers will discuss the Greek bailout and a bond swap agreement with Greece's private creditors.

"There are still uncertainties out there but I think it's more likely that the current situation will be resolved" with a bond swap, Wong said. "If everything goes right we might see a temporary fix for the Greek debt problem."

Chinese stocks, however, turned lower after rising initially. The Shanghai Composite Index dipped 0.1 percent to 2,353.51 as investors remain skeptical that authorities in Beijing will move more aggressively to prop up slowing economic growth by loosening credit curbs put in place to counter inflation and cool housing costs, Wong said.

Shares of Billabong International Ltd. rose 46 percent in Sydney after the Australian surfwear retailer said it had received a takeover off from TPG Capital, though was uncertain if any deal would go ahead. It also said it would shed 400 jobs worldwide and close dozens of unprofitable stores as it tries to restore its flagging fortunes in a tough retail market.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 12,904.08, its highest in four years. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 finished at 1,358.04, its close in nine and a half months. The Nasdaq composite rose 44.02 points to 2,959.85, its highest level since 2000.

In currencies, the dollar strengthened to 79.07 Japanese yen from 78.88 yen in late trading Thursday while the euro fell to $1.3128 from 1.3143.

Benchmark crude was up 11 cents at $102.42per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 52 cents to settle at $102.32 on Thursday.

Brent crude was up 21 cents to $120.32 per barrel in London.

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