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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Asia stocks rise after China reports strong credit growth, Japan private consumption higher

BEIJING, China - Asian stock markets rose Monday after China's bank lending in January beat forecasts and Europe reported stronger-than-expected economic growth.

The Shanghai Composite Index added 0.3 per cent to 2,122.9 and Tokyo's Nikkei 225 gained 0.4 per cent to 14,369.78.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1 per cent to 22,527.22. Seoul and Sydney also rose.

Lending by Chinese banks and in the largely unregulated underground market rebounded to 2.6 trillion yuan ($430 billion) in January from December's 1.2 billion yuan, according to the central bank. Lending usually surges at the start of a new year but January's rise exceeded forecasts and might help to ease worries about cooling retail sales, manufacturing and other activity.

"The January credit data could boost confidence in short term economic growth," said Bank of America economists Ting Lu and Xiaojia Zhi in a report. However, they cautioned such data also might raise concerns about the health of China's financial system.

Japan's latest quarterly economic growth disappointed forecasters, holding steady at 0.3 per cent. Growth in private consumption accelerated to 0.5 per cent from the previous quarter's 0.2 per cent but fell short of forecasts. Public investment growth tumbled to 2.3 per cent from the previous quarter's 7.2 per cent.

Taiwan's Taiex gained 0.1 per cent to 8,524.90 and Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.4 per cent to 5,377.7. South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 per cent to 1,946.62.

On Friday, markets rose on news that Europe's economic recovery gathered some speed at the end of 2013.

The economy of the 17-nation euro currency bloc grew 0.3 per cent in the fourth quarter, above expectations for 0.2 per cent. That shows the recovery is getting a foothold, both in the larger economies such as Germany and weaker ones including Italy.

On Wall Street, the Standard & Poor's 500 rose eight points, or 0.5 per cent, to close at 1,838. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 126 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 16,154.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3709 from $1.3706 late Friday. The dollar fell to 101.65 yen from 101.74 yen.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was up 21 cents to $100.51 a barrel in electronic on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 5 cents to close at $100.30 on Friday.

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