Asia stocks rise as US housing data offsets China

BANGKOK -- Asian stock markets rose Thursday after an unexpectedly strong U.S. housing report renewed confidence in the world's biggest economy and enabled investors to overlook slower growth in China.

The U.S. Commerce Department said builders started construction on new single-family houses and apartments at the fastest pace in more than four years. Housing starts surged to an annual rate of 872,000 in September, far above estimates. The figures offset the gloom from some mediocre earnings reports.

Analysts at DBS Bank Ltd in Singapore said it remains to be seen whether the housing data represents the start of a real recovery.

"One thing's for sure: nowhere else do you see this sort of growth in the economy. If for that reason alone, it's worth watching," DBS said in a market commentary.

Housing is crucial to any economic recovery in the U.S. and the good numbers enabled investors in Asia to overlook a further slowdown in China's economic growth. The world's No. 2 economy grew 7.4 percent in the third quarter, down from 7.6 percent in the previous three months and the lowest since the first quarter of 2009.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 1.7 percent to 8,952.68. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index added 0.5 percent to 21,523.50 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.1 percent at 1,957.41. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 1.1 percent to 4,579.60.

Hopes that Spain's debt calamity might ease grew ahead of a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels later Thursday.

Markets are hoping that Spain will seek help to keep its borrowing costs down. The government in Madrid has been reluctant to do so because such aid could damage the country's image and also compel it to comply with onerous conditions.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent to close at 13,557 on Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.4 percent to close at 1,460.91. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.1 percent to close at 3,104.12.

Benchmark oil for November delivery was up 2 cents to $92.14 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 3 cents to finish at $92.12 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3106 from $1.3123 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 79.17 yen from 78.97 yen.