Asia stocks rise on signs of improving US economy

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By PAMELA SAMPSON, Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets rose Thursday after a Federal Reserve survey found the U.S. economy improved in 2012 and earnings from a handful of big banks far exceeded expectations.

The report, known as the Beige Book, reports on the economic conditions of the Fed's regional banking districts. The Fed said Wednesday that 12 of its districts reported "modest or moderate" growth in the final weeks of 2012.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.2 percent to 10,619.74. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.1 percent to 23,383.08 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.9 percent to 4,781.60. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.3 percent to 1,971.81.

Analysts also took note of the mild inflation rate in the U.S., which makes it easier for the Fed to continue with its efforts to accelerate the economy. If the Fed were worried that prices are rising too fast, it might have to raise interest rates. Consumer prices rose only 1.7 percent in 2012, down from 3 percent in 2011, the government reported Wednesday.

The numbers were in line with the Fed's forecasts that inflation would remain a little below target, leaving it free to focus on the other half of its dual mandate to reduce unemployment through monetary stimulus, said Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics in a market commentary.

The Fed also said U.S. factory production rose in December for the second straight month, buoyed by more output of autos, electronics and business equipment.

On the corporate front, net income from JPMorgan Chase, the country's largest bank, soared 55 percent from a year earlier while Goldman Sachs' earnings nearly tripled. EBay Inc.'s fourth-quarter earnings also topped analyst projections as bargain-hunting holiday shoppers flocked to its Internet shopping mall and digital payment service.

But problems for Boeing's 787 new "Dreamliner" overshadowed buoyant earnings reports, sending the aircraft maker's stock down sharply and taking the Dow with it.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.2 percent to close at 13,511.23. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose less than 0.1 percent to 1,472.63. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.2 percent to 3,117.54.

Benchmark oil for February delivery was down 12 cents to $94.11 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 96 cents to close at $94.24 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3300 from $1.3286 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 88.53 yen from 88.49 yen.

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