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Asian Stocks Advance as U.S. Jobs, Housing Data Beat Estimates

Asian stocks rose, sending the regional benchmark index toward its longest-ever streak of weekly gains, as U.S. jobs and housing data beat projections, boosting confidence the world’s largest economy is recovering.

Samsung Electronics Inc., the third-biggest maker of mobile phones, rose 1.7 percent in Seoul. Inpex Corp., Japan’s No. 1 energy explorer, advanced 5.1 percent in Tokyo after crude rose for a seventh day. Air New Zealand Ltd., the nation’s largest carrier, slipped 3.4 percent in Wellington after posting a drop in first-half net income.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose 0.3 percent to 128.06 as of 7:34 p.m. in Tokyo, heading for a 10-week advance, its longest run of gains since data started being collected in 1988. The rally is powered by optimism Europe will contain its debt crisis, bets China will ease monetary policy and signs the U.S. economy is improving.

“If you can get better data on employment and housing, I think investors will be comfortable the recovery in the U.S. this time around has a better chance of surviving and thriving,” said Prasad Patkar, who helps manage about $1 billion at Platypus Asset Management Ltd. in Sydney. “Improved risk appetite and improving economic fundamentals will create a catalyst that’s been lacking despite attractive valuations.”

Japan Small Caps

Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average rose 0.5 percent today. A gauge of smaller companies on the Tokyo bourse’s second section rose for a 29th day, extending its longest stretch of gains since 1961. Kagetsuenkanko Co., a hotel and resort manager, climbed 35 percent to 115 yen, the biggest increase on the TSE Second Section Price Index. The stock has risen 311 percent since Jan. 16, the last close before the gauge began its streak.

South Korea’s Kospi Index rose 0.6 percent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.5 percent, led by casino operator Echo Entertainment Group Ltd. The stock climbed 13 percent after Crown Ltd. doubled its stake in Echo to 10 percent and sought regulatory approval to buy more.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index swung between gains and losses as advances by exporters such as Li & Fung Ltd. were tempered by declines among developers.

U.S. Data

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 0.3 percent today. The S&P 500 rose 0.4 percent to 1,363.46 yesterday in New York after U.S. initial jobless claims held at a four-year low and a gauge of housing prices rose 0.7 percent, with both reports beating estimates. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 0.4 percent to 12,984.69, the highest level since May 2008.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index of conditions in the U.S. rose to minus 38.4 in the week through Feb. 19, the strongest reading since April 2008.

Samsung Electronics rose 1.7 percent to 1,180,000 won in Seoul. Sony Corp., Japan’s leading exporter of consumer electronics, rose 3 percent to 1,740 yen.

Crude for April delivery gained 1.5 percent to $107.83 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday, the highest settlement since May 4. Inpex gained 5.1 percent to 603,000 yen in Tokyo, while Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. climbed 2.9 percent to 4,065 yen.

AIA Group Ltd., Asia’s third-largest insurer by market value, rose 3.3 percent to HK$28.30 after saying the value of new business, a measure of projected future profitability, surged 40 percent last year.

Among stocks that fell, Air New Zealand slid 3.4 percent to 86 New Zealand cents after reporting a 61 percent drop in net income for the six months through Dec. 31. The carrier said it will cut 441 jobs by the end of June.

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