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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Asian stock markets bolstered by solid US corporate earnings, home sales

SEOUL, South Korea - Asian stock markets mostly rose Wednesday, bolstered by solid U.S. earnings and home sales. Indonesian stocks advanced after the official vote count showed Joko Widodo the clear winner of a bitterly contested presidential election.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.8 per cent to 23,962.98 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.6 per cent to 5,575.10 helped by the brisk output report by mining giant BHP Billiton.

Stocks in mainland China and Southeast Asia also rose. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 was little changed at 15,331.70 and South Korea's Kospi was steady at 2,027.77.

Markets have been roiled the past week by heightened tensions between Russia and the West after a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists, killing all 298 people on board. The tensions eased Tuesday after the separatists released a train packed with bodies and handed over the aircraft's black boxes.

"A combination of US earnings optimism, positive US economic data and a slight downgrade to Russia risk has ignited markets today," Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG, said in a commentary. "While we were expecting to see gains for Asia at the open this morning, very few would have expected the magnitude of the gains we're seeing now."

The focus of investors was returning to earnings, with hundreds of U.S. companies set to report quarterly results this week. Many of the U.S. earnings reports have been positive so far, easing jitters that stock prices have climbed too high in the past several months.

Indonesia's benchmark was up 0.5 per cent after the country's election commission said Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, won 53 per cent of the vote. He was the first candidate in a direct presidential election in Indonesia with no ties to the former dictator Suharto, who ruled for 30 years before being overthrown in 1998.

Widodo's rival, former general Prabowo Subianto, withdrew from the contest shortly before the final numbers were released by the commission, saying there was massive fraud during the election, and that it was unfair and undemocratic.

On Wall Street, stocks advanced as big companies, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Comcast, reported forecast-beating quarterly earnings. The Standard & Poor's 500 added 0.5 per cent to 1,983.53 and the Dow Jones industrial average finished 0.4 per cent higher at 17,113.54. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite gained 0.7 per cent to 4,456.02.

After U.S. markets closed, two tech giants again boosted investor sentiment with their better-than-expected earnings reports.

Apple Inc. reported a 12 per cent increase in its quarterly profit for the three months ending June 28, exceeding analysts' estimate. The company said its iPhone shipments rose 13 per cent over a year earlier, showing consumers still snapped up its devices even as the next version will likely to come out this fall.

Media reports have said Apple's Taiwanese contractors are ramping up production of its next iPhone models which are expected to feature a bigger screen than its predecessors. Microsoft's CEO painted a rosy vision for the company's future after saying its profit excluding items related to the absorption of Nokia was higher than forecasts.

U.S. home resale numbers also bolstered sentiment. Sales of previously owned homes rose 2.6 per cent in June, a third straight monthly gain and the highest level in eight months. The report from the National Association of Realtors provided the evidence that housing is regaining lost momentum.

In energy markets, U.S. benchmark crude for September delivery was down 39 cents to $102.00 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The August contract, which expired Tuesday, fell 47 cents to $102.39 a barrel on Tuesday.

The euro was flat at $1.3466 late Tuesday while the dollar fell to 101.42 yen from 101.47 yen.

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