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Asian stocks gain, Europe falls as US GDP eyed

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[July 31, 2009]  HONG KONG (AP) -- Asian stock markets closed out a robust July with more gains Friday as better-than-expected earnings at companies from Japan to the U.S. reinforced hopes of stronger global growth. European markets were weaker in early trade.

InsuranceEvery major Asian market turned higher with Chinese and Indian markets leading the way. Crude oil prices resumed their upward trek to trade above $67 a barrel.

Investors worldwide cheered last-quarter results released in recent days that seemed to show many companies are faring better than expected despite the downturn and expect growth to pick up later this year.

In Japan, electronics and entertainment giant Sony Corp. posted a smaller loss than forecast. Also lifting sentiment were results from leading Western companies like U.S. electronics giant Motorola Inc., which posted a surprise profit, and British telecom firm BT Group PLC.

Dennis Poon, research head at South China Securities in Hong Kong, said he expects markets, particularly those in Asia, to march higher as earnings potential and liquidity lure more money into stocks.

"We are in a bull market, the momentum is here and the direction is up," Poon said. "Given all the growth, I think we may be only at fair value right now."

European shares were mostly lower ahead of a key report on U.S. economic output last quarter. British and German markets were off 0.1 percent while France's index lost 0.3 percent. Stock futures pointed to modest gains Friday on Wall Street with Dow futures up 49 points, or 0.5 percent, to 9,139.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average gained 191.62 points, or 1.9 percent, 10,356.83, with investors seemingly unfazed by news the country's unemployment rate hit a six-year high in June of 5.4 percent, threatening to stall a recovery in the world's second-biggest economy. Economists predict a new record high in the months to come.

Chinese shares continued to recover after tanking Wednesday amid fears the government would constrict liquidity. The Shanghai benchmark jumped 2.7 percent to 3,412.06. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1.7 percent to 20,573.33.

Indian shares climbed 2.2 percent. Markets in Taiwan and Singapore were also higher.

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Hopes of higher economic growth compared with the West, along with immense liquidity sloshing around Asia, have created a frenzy in recent months for Asian stocks. That's partly because the region's faster-expanding economies usually translate into market rallies that outpace gains in more mature markets.

July was a case in point. While the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index were on track to finish the month about 7 percent higher, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Indonesia benchmarks were up about 13 percent.

Looking ahead, the markets will be watching for a report on U.S. economic growth last quarter. Economists expect the contraction in the nation's gross domestic product to have slowed to an annual 1.5 percent in the April-June period.

In New York Thursday, the Dow rose its highest level in nearly nine months, adding 83.74, or 0.9 percent, to 9,154.46 after being up as much as 176 points.

The S&P 500 rose 11.60, or 1.2 percent, to 986.75, and the Nasdaq advanced 16.54, or 0.9 percent, to 1,984.30.


Helping U.S. markets were surging oil prices, which gained more ground in Asia Friday. Benchmark crude for September delivery rose 7 cents to $67.01, after spiking $3.59, or 5.6 percent, overnight.

The dollar was a tad higher at 95.63 yen from 95.56 yen. The euro traded higher at $1.4098 from $1.4065.

[Associated Press; By JEREMIAH MARQUEZ]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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