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Asian stocks mostly higher on strong China data
Asian stocks mostly higher on stronger China manufacturing data
By The Associated Press

SHANGHAI (AP) ' Asian stocks were mostly higher Wednesday despite a lackluster day on Wall Street, as improved manufacturing data from China offered reassurance over its economic slowdown.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 rose 0.3 percent to 8,826.79, helped by news of rebounding industrial production and household spending. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.2 percent to 20,424.24 and Seoul's Kospi added 0.3 percent, to 1,961.77.

An unexpected drop in U.S. consumer confidence dragged stocks down on Wall Street, where the Dow Jones industrial average finished down 20.81 points, or 0.2 percent, at 12,632.91. The S&P slipped 0.60 point to 1,312.41 while the Nasdaq composite index rose 1.90 points to close at 2,813.84.

But overall the U.S. markets had their best start for stocks in 15 years, thanks to a modest improvement in the economy. Sentiment was further buoyed by hopes of progress in Europe after leaders there agreed on the broad outlines of a deal to tie the countries that use the euro closer together and on hopes that Greece is close to a debt-reduction deal with private creditors.

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index climbed 0.1 percent to 2,294.67 following the release of a key manufacturing index that showed conditions improving in January for a second straight month, though only by a modest margin.

Peng Yunliang, an analyst based in Shanghai, said strong demand for food and beverages kept manufacturing demand better than expected.

"I expect the market will keep on rising in the short term," he said.

Shares in Singapore and Australia weakened, while Taiwan, Indonesia and New Zealand gained ground.

European markets rebounded Tuesday amid hopes for progress on handling Greece's debt. Under a tentative agreement, investors holding 206 billion euros ($272 billion) in Greek bonds would exchange them for bonds with half the face value. The replacement bonds would have a longer maturity and pay a lower interest rate. When the bonds mature, Greece would have to pay its bondholders only 103 billion euros.

France's CAC-40 gained 1 percent while Britain's FTSE 100 and Germany's DAX both gained 0.2 percent.

Benchmark oil for March delivery gained 31 cents to $98.79 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 30 cents to end at $98.48 per barrel in New York on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3064 from $1.3084 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell to 76.15 yen from 76.20 yen.

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