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Asia stocks follow Wall Street higher
Asia stocks mostly higher after Wall Street ends first day of 2012 trade on a high note
By The Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) ' Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday after Wall Street opened the year with a bang following the release of positive U.S. economic data.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index gained 1.1 percent to 8,551.77, while Australia's S&P ASX 200 jumped 2.1 percent to 4,188.40. Benchmarks in mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines also rose.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index slipped 0.2 percent to 18,833.64 while South Korea's Kospi fell a slight 0.1 percent to 1,873.13.

On Wall Street, stocks rose sharply Tuesday after investors returned from the holiday and found encouraging economic reports.

The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index for December, which showed a rise to 53.9 from 52.7 in November. Readings above 50 indicate expansion.

Other data showed U.S. builders spent more in November on single-family homes, apartments and remodeling projects.

The strong reports correspond with other positive signs for the economy, including rising consumer confidence and a drop in unemployment benefit applications.

"The US continues to grow fairly earnestly in spite of turmoil in Europe. Yesterday's ISM report was especially encouraging," analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a research note.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 1.4 percent to 12,397.38, its highest close in more than five months.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index, a broader gauge than the Dow, finished up almost 20 points at 1,277. The S&P finished 2011 was virtually unchanged.

There was also hope from Europe's largest economy, Germany, which reported that the average number of people unemployed there last year was the lowest in two decades. Germany has an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent, compared with 8.6 percent in the United States.

Meanwhile, China's manufacturing index rose in December, reversing a November slide and raising hopes that the country's economic slowdown is under control.

Benchmark crude for February delivery fell 12 cents to $102.84 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $4.13 to finish at $102.96 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currency trading, the euro fell to $1.3027 from $1.3056 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell slightly to 76.64 yen from 76.67 yen.

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