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Asia stocks up as takeover talk in US drives Dow

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets picked up stream Wednesday, driven higher by reports that another big corporate takeover might be in the works in the U.S.

A report that major office supply retailers Office Depot and OfficeMax are in talks to combine their businesses sent the Dow Jones industrial average to a near-record high Tuesday. That news came on top of an $11 billion tie-up between American Airlines and US Airways, announced earlier this month, that will create the world's biggest airline.

Stock markets are often energized by speculation of takeovers. Aside from pushing up the share prices of the companies involved if the deal is regarded as a good one, investors also see big takeovers as a sign of confidence in the business and economic outlook.

Stocks were also boosted by data released Tuesday that showed German investor sentiment rising in February, way above market expectations. The index is now at its highest level for nearly three years, adding to the evidence that suggests Germany's economy will not fall into recession.

"Positive news in the form of a bigger than forecast rise in February German ZEW investor confidence helped to shore up market sentiment although perhaps the main message here is one of German outperformance rather than eurozone recovery," analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a research note.

Looking ahead, traders are concerned about political developments in Italy. An election this weekend could result in a split parliament, making it difficult for a coalition government to push through unpopular economic reforms.

"The eurozone is going to be a distraction throughout the year. There will be good results. And you will have bad results," said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.9 percent to 11,474.65. The index briefly topped 11,500 for the first time since late 2008, despite a government report showing the country posted a record high monthly trade deficit of 1.63 trillion yen ($17.4 billion) in January.

South Korea's Kospi advanced 1.7 percent to 2,018.43. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.3 percent to 23,201.41. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 percent to 5,098.70.

Among individual stocks, Australia's Woodside Petroleum rose 2.9 percent after lifting its full year net profit. BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, fell 1.1 percent after announcing its chief executive Marius Kloppers, will retire in May. Kloppers will be replaced on May 10 by the chief executive of BHP's non-ferrous metals division, Andrew Mackenzie.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 53.91 points to close at 14,035.67. The S&P 500 index rose 0.7 percent to 1,530.94. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.7 percent to 3,213.59.

That's despite the $1.2 trillion in automatic federal spending cuts that are scheduled to start March 1 unless Congress and the White House find a way to avoid them. Previous budget battles in Washington have rattled financial markets.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 5 cents to $97.06 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The March contract expires Wednesday. The contract rose 80 cents to finish at $96.66 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell slightly to $1.3413 from $1.3416 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar inched down to 93.41 yen from 93.44 yen.


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