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Asia stocks gain after strong US earnings

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets rose Wednesday after strong U.S. corporate earnings outweighed sagging consumer confidence.

Japan's Nikkei surged 1.7 percent to 11,049.91, its highest level since April 2010, as the yen continued to weaken against the U.S. dollar. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.8 percent to 23,817.16.

South Korea's Kospi rose 0.5 percent to 1,965.51 after the government said manufacturing output rose 0.8 percent in December from November.

Gains in resource stocks helped lift Australia's S&P/ASX 200 by 0.1 percent to 4,896. Mining giants Rio Tinto Ltd. gained 1.7 percent and BHP Billiton advanced 1.2 percent.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia rose. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed.

Investors are waiting for the end of a meeting in Washington of the Federal Open Market Committee. That's the group, composed of Fed board members in Washington and regional bank presidents, who meet eight times a year to determine the Federal Reserve's monetary policy including interest rates.

If the Fed sticks to its commitment to low interest rates, that would drive more money toward stock markets, said Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

"The main focus is whether there will be some hints given out about what will be going on in future interest rate moves," Yip said. "Right now, market sentiment remains good."

Last month the Fed said that as long as the inflation outlook is mild, it could keep short-term rates near zero until the unemployment rate dips below 6.5 percent from the current 7.8 percent. That could take until the end of 2015, the Fed predicted.

Meanwhile, a survey on U.S. consumer confidence Tuesday was unexpectedly weak, but analysts said the result was likely a one-time blip due to the payroll tax increase that was part of the agreement reached by U.S. lawmakers to avert bigger spending cuts and tax increases.

Wall Street stocks rose Tuesday after drugmaker Pfizer posted strong earnings. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.5 percent to close at 13,954.42 points, ending higher for the seventh day in eight. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.5 percent to 1,507.84. Refinery operator Valero Energy, which also posted strong fourth-quarter results, was the biggest gainer on the S&P.

The Nasdaq composite index was little changed at 3,153.66

Currently, analysts expect fourth-quarter earnings for 2012 to increase by an average of 4.7 percent for S&P 500 companies, according to the latest data from S&P Capital IQ. That's an improvement on the previous quarter when profit grew by 2.4 percent.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 5 cents to $97.62 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.13, or 1.2 percent, to close at $97.57 on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro was steady at $1.3486 from late Tuesday in New York. The euro hit its highest level against the dollar in nearly 14 months Tuesday after data was released showing a rise in German consumer confidence. The dollar rose to 90.93 yen from 90.69 yen.


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