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World stocks rise as U.S., China economies improve

BANGKOK (AP) — World stock markets rose Friday after signs that the U.S. economic recovery is gaining traction and a rebound in China's growth emboldened investors to plunge back into equities. The Nikkei soared as the yen continued to weaken.

China's economy grew 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, up from the previous quarter's 7.4 percent. Stronger quarterly growth was widely expected after earlier data showed retail sales, factory output and other indicators rising.

"Such an outcome should put to rest any remaining doubt about China escaping a hard landing and sailing smoothly through the troubled global waters," Dariusz Kowalczyk of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in an email.

European stocks rose in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.3 percent to 6,150.63. Germany's DAX rose 0.2 percent to 7,748.77 and France's CAC-40 added 0.4 percent to 3,757.85.

A day after Standard and Poor's 500 index hit a five year high, S&P 500 futures rose nearly 0.1 percent to 1,476, signaling more gains to come on Wall Street. Dow Jones industrial futures rose marginally to 13,549.

Stocks across Asia were solidly higher.

Japan's Nikkei 225 soared 2.9 percent to close at 10.913.30, the highest finish in nearly three years, as the yen slipped against the dollar. The dollar rose above the 90-yen line for the first time since June 2010 as expectations intensified that the Bank of Japan will take steps to ease credit next week, Kyodo News Agency reported. A weaker yen is a significant boost for Japan's powerhouse exporters.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.1 percent to 23,601.78. South Korea's Kospi added 0.7 percent to 1,987.85. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 percent to 4,771.20.

In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.4 percent to 2,317.07 while the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index gained 1.5 percent to 935.7. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia rose. Malaysia and New Zealand fell.

Among individual stocks, mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd. got a 2.7 percent boost following the resignation of its chief executive. Japan's export-linked companies, which generally benefit from a weaker currency, surged. Mazda Motor Corp. jumped 11.7 percent and Ricoh Co. soared 7.2 percent. Sony Corp. bounded up 12.2 percent.

Analysts say they don't expect to see new stimulus measures or radical policy changes by the new Chinese leadership, especially after what Friday's figures showed.

"They are going to continue to make sure growth continues but at a sustainable rate and part of that for the new leadership is to make sure money isn't wasted on corruption or on roads that go nowhere. They are trying to be prudent in their policies," said Andrew Sullivan, a Hong Kong-based market analyst.

Investors became more optimistic Thursday after the U.S. Commerce Department issued a strong report on housing starts for December. Builders broke ground on houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000 — more than 12 percent higher than November.

Unemployment figures were a further sign of economic recovery. The U.S. government said the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid plummeted to a five-year low last week.

"US economic data continued to show steady and gradual growth, and that gave a fresh boost to market sentiment," said Gary Yau of Credit Agricole in a market commentary.

Benchmark oil for February delivery was down 3 cents to $95.46 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.25 to finish at $95.49 a barrel. That was the highest close for crude on the Nymex since Sept. 17 and a result of the positive economic reports out of the U.S.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3358 from $1.3384 late Thursday in New York. The dollar was at 89.97 yen.

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