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Asia stocks follow Wall Street higher

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.
Oil prices softened but remained above $102 per barrel. The dollar rose against the euro and was steady against the yen.
On the first trading day of 2012 in Japan, the Nikkei 225 showed renewed life as it posted a 1.1 percent gain to 8,550.93. The battered benchmark lost nearly 20 percent of its value in 2011 — a year marred by a tsunami and nuclear plant disaster, made all the more difficult by record-high levels for the yen.
Financial services minister Shozaburo Jimi expressed hopes for a better year to come in remarks at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
“People are struggling with so much change. But this is an opportunity for Japan and the Japanese spirit of cooperation,” he said.
Japanese exporters rose amid signs the U.S. economy is on the mend — good news for companies that depend on sales to the world’s No. 1 economy. Toyota Motor Corp. jumped 2.9 percent, Honda soared 3.8 percent and Yamaha added 3.4 percent. Nikon Corp. gained 2.3 percent and Fujitsu Ltd. gained 4 percent.
Elsewhere, Australia’s S&P ASX 200 rose 2.1 percent to 4,187.80. Markets in Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, New Zealand and the Philippines also rose.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index and South Korea’s Kospi slipped after strong gains a day earlier. The Hang Seng fell 0.3 percent to 18,822.68, while the Kospi was down 0.4 percent at 1,868.48.
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 rose to 53.9 from November’s 52.7, with readings above 50 indicating expansion. Factories hired more workers in December, saw the most growth in new orders since April and ramped up production.
Other data showed the struggling construction industry on firmer footing, with U.S. builders spending 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 U.S. continues to grow fairly earnestly in spite of turmoil in Europe. Yesterday’s (manufacturing) report was especially encouraging,” analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a research note.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.5 percent to 12,397.38, its highest close in more than five months. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 1.5 percent at 1,277.06. The Nasdaq closed up 1.7 percent at 2,648.72.
There was also hope from Europe’s largest economy, Germany, which reported the average number of people unemployed there last year was the lowest in two decades.
Meanwhile, China’s manufacturing index for December rose, reversing a November slide and raising hopes the country’s economic slowdown is under control.
A jump in commodity prices, which often follow stock prices, helped metals and mining shares. In Australia, OZ Minerals Ltd. gained 4.1 percent and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. jumped 4.8 percent. Uranium miner Paladin Energy Ltd. gained 3.6 percent. BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, soared 4.1 percent.
Benchmark crude for February delivery fell 29 cents to $102.67 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 $1.3032 from $1.3056 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar was unchanged at 76.67 yen

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