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Asia stocks rise as banks dodge Greek debt hit

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stocks rose Friday as the U.S. jobs market showed new signs of improvement and global banks avoided a hit from Greece's debt crisis.

Benchmark oil hovered above $108 per barrel while the dollar rose against the yen and the euro.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.7 percent to 9,776.53 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng climbed 1 percent to 21,595.90. South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent to 2,035.86. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.3 percent to 4,268.60.

Banks around the world are on the hook for as much as $70 billion in bond insurance payments if Greece defaults on its debt. But a panel ruled that Greece's plan to restructure its debt should not trigger any insurance payments, at least for now.

The panel, which had been convened by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, had been asked by investors to rule whether the plan to swap existing debt for new bonds of lower value and longer maturity constituted a so-called credit event. It ruled that the Greek bond deal was still being carried out and did not yet constitute a credit event — but that the question could come up again.

Meanwhile, in the latest sign of improvement in the U.S. jobs market, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest point since March 2008. The four-week average was also the lowest in four years.

Analysts said investors are also looking to the opening Monday of the annual meeting of the ceremonial Chinese legislature, which is used by the government as a platform to announce its policy direction for the coming year.

Investors expect to see measures to help prop up domestic demand as well as looser reins on lending to try to boost growth, said Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

"Right now, exports from mainland China are not so good, so they have to do more things to push up domestic demand," he said.

That expectation helped push up some lesser known companies that produce for the local Chinese market, such as Hong Kong-listed TV maker Skyworth Digital, which rose 2.6 percent.

Tokyo-based Elpida Memory Ltd. plummeted 29 percent. The company, the only manufacturer in Japan to specialize in DRAM chips used in mobile phones and computers, filed for bankruptcy protection Monday.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.2 percent to close at 12,980.30 on Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 0.6 percent to close at 1,374.09. The Nasdaq composite average rose 0.7 percent to 2,988.97.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 40 cents to $108.44 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.77 to finish at $108.84 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3297 from $1.3316 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 81.45 yen from 81.08 yen.