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Asia stocks rise on growth hopes, BOJ pick

Youkyung Lee, AP Business Writer

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Asian stock markets rose Thursday as positive economic indicators and the nomination of a pro-stimulus Bank of Japan chief bolstered hopes for faster growth.

Tokyo's benchmark led gains in regional stocks after the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated Haruhiko Kuroda, currently president of the Asian Development Bank, to head Japan's central bank. The Nikkei 225 stock average closed at 11,559.36, up 2.7 percent.

Kuroda is seen as a supporter of Abe's efforts to overcome Japan's 20 years of economic stagnation with bolder monetary easing, a weaker yen and bigger government spending.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea's Kospi ended 1.1 percent higher at 2,026.49, the highest close since Jan. 2, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 2 percent to 23,020.27. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 1.3 percent to 5,104.10. Stocks in mainland China, Singapore and Thailand also rose.

In early European trading, the FTSE 100 index of leading British companies rose 0.5 percent to 6,359.00 and Germany's DAX was up 0.7 percent to 7,732.32. France's CAC 40 gained 0.5 percent to 3,709.72.

U.S. stocks were set for another day of gain. Dow futures were up 0.1 percent at 14,078 and broader S&P 500 futures rose 0.1 percent to 1,517.40.

In Tokyo, Kuroda's nomination and expectations for a weaker yen whetted investor appetite for exporters. Shares of Sony Corp. jumped 3.6 percent and Toyota Motor Corp. soared 3.5 percent.

Investors also welcomed a string of improved economic figures from Asia, Europe and the United States that helped to offset concern about Italy's hung parliament and government spending cuts in the U.S.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said industrial production rose 1 percent from the month before in January, the second straight monthly increase. The ministry suggested a slump in output had bottomed.

On Wednesday, new figures from the U.S. National Association of Realtors showed pending sales rose 4.5 percent in January, the biggest increase since April 2010.

The Commerce Department said orders of U.S. long-lasting factory goods, or so-called core capital goods, rose 6.3 percent in January from December, indicating companies are willing to expand their production capacities.

"Solid U.S. data helped investors shrug off worries as the private sector continues spending," said Lee Sun-yup, a market analyst at Shinhan Investment Corp. in Seoul. "Private sector spending can cushion the impact from the automatic government spending cuts that will slow the economy."

And in Europe, a survey showed economic sentiment in the 17 euro countries rising by more than anticipated in February.

In currency markets, the euro was almost flat at $1.3141 and the dollar rose 0.2 percent to 92.39 yen.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was down 18 cents to $92.58 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.