Asia stocks up as confidence in US economy grows

By PAMELA SAMPSON | January 10, 2012 | 9:50 PM EST

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly higher Wednesday, amid signs of a strengthening U.S. economy and relief that France won't lose its sterling credit rating.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.2 percent at 8,435.59, tracking overnight gains on Wall Street. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 0.3 percent to 19,052.36. Australia's S&P ASX 200 added 1 percent to 4,193.40.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, and mainland China also rose. Opposing the trend was South Korea's Kospi, which fell 0.3 percent at 1,846.99.

Commodity prices, which rose on expectations that China's economy will continue to grow this year, helped boost mining and energy shares.

Paladin Energy, an Australian uranium miner, jumped 6.1 percent. Energy Resources of Australia rose 3.2 percent. BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, gained 1.6 percent. Hong Kong-listed Zijin Mining Group Co., China's largest gold miner, gained 2.7 percent.

Financial companies also rose on the back of strong leads from U.S. banks. Japan's Mizuho Financial Group Inc. added 0.9 percent and Australia's Westpac rose 2.3 percent.

In Europe, meanwhile, markets soared Tuesday after Fitch Ratings said that it will not downgrade France's credit rating this year. France's CAC-40 index closed 2.7 percent higher, and Germany's DAX rose 2.4 percent.

A downgrade for France could scuttle the region's efforts to stem its debt crisis. Europe's bailout fund needs France and Germany to keep their sterling credit ratings so it can borrow at affordable rates.

The U.S. economy appears to have strengthened in recent weeks. A series of positive reports on hiring, manufacturing and consumer sentiment have eased fears that Europe's unfolding debt crisis will drag the U.S. into another recession.

The prevailing optimism led to gains Tuesday on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.6 percent to 12,462.47. The Nasdaq composite index gained 1 percent to 2,702.50. The S&P 500 index rose 0.9 percent to 1,292.08.