Last updated: February 20. 2013 1:28AM - 94 Views

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(AP) A positive start to U.S. corporate earnings season and a sharp improvement in China's monthly trade helped boost Asian stock markets Thursday.


Hong Kong's benchmark index rose on the heels of a decision by China's securities regulator to transfer some IPOs of mainland-based companies to the territory's exchange.


Major regional benchmarks rose after a handful of better-than-expected results from U.S. companies that also lifted Wall Street. Consumer products maker Helen of Troy, whose brands include Dr. Scholl's and Vidal Sassoon, reported a 15 percent profit increase. Electronic payments processor Global Payments said its fiscal second-quarter earnings rose nearly 15 percent, beating Wall Street expectations.


Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.9 percent to 10,666.84. South Korea's Kospi added 0.7 percent to 2,004.96 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.3 percent to 4,721.40. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and New Zealand also rose.


The Hang Seng Index gained 0.9 percent to 23,419.46 following a decision by the China Securities Regulatory Commission to allow some initial public offerings of mainland companies to be carried out in Hong Kong.


The move is an effort to clear a backlog of IPOs that the understaffed CSRC cannot handle, said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong.


It's a practical way to handle an emergency problem, Lun said. It will boost the Hong Kong exchange's market capitalization by one-third, he said.


A rebound in China's exports also lifted investment sentiment. Export growth more than quadrupled from November to 14.1 percent in December. Imports rose 6 percent from November, when they failed to grow at all.


A weakening yen helped propel Japan's export-reliant carmakers higher. Mazda Motor Corp. soared 9 percent. Honda Motor Co. gained 2.6 percent. Isuzu Motors Ltd. rose 3.8 percent. Japanese steelmakers also posted solid gains. JFE Holdings jumped 5.8 percent and Kobe Steel added 6.7 percent.


Hong Kong-listed Aluminum Corp. of China surged 8.1 percent a day after U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa forecast demand would grow 7 percent in 2013, up from a 6 percent gain in 2012.


Later Thursday, the European Central Bank will meet to set monetary policy for the 17 countries that use the euro. It is expected to keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged at the record low of 0.75 percent even though the eurozone economy as a whole is back in recession. Investors are also awaiting the release in the U.S. of weekly jobless claims.


On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.5 percent to close at 13,390.51 on Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.3 percent to 1,461.02. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.5 percent to 3,105.81.


Benchmark crude oil contract for February delivery was up 36 cents to $93.46 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 5 cents to close at $93.10 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.


In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3043 from $1.3053 while the dollar rose to 88.08 yen from 87.75 yen.


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Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson


Associated Press
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