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Asia stocks up on mildly positive U.S. data

BANGKOK - A pair of positive U.S. economic reports helped prod Asian stock markets higher Thursday, but enthusiasm wilted in Europe ahead of a bond auction in Spain that will test investor appetite.

Cash-strapped Spain, which is struggling to prop up its shaky banking sector amid a deep recession, will auction bonds maturing in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Elsewhere in Europe, the Bank of England meets to set its interest rate and decide on any further expansion of its quantitative easing program.

European stocks fell in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 was marginally lower at 5,821.77. Germany's DAX lost 0.3 percent to 7,296.97 and France's CAC-40 lost 0.4 percent to 3,393.93.

But Wall Street futures augured gains. Dow Jones industrial futures gained 0.2 percent to 13,456 and S&P 500 futures added 0.3 percent to 1,449.10.

Hints of improvement in the world's biggest economy helped propel Asian stocks higher earlier in the day. A report released Wednesday showed U.S. service companies grew last month at the fastest pace in six months. A separate report said American companies engaged in a modest amount of hiring in September.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.9 percent to close at 8,824.59. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 4,452.40. Benchmarks in India, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia also rose. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.2 percent to 1,992.68. New Zealand also closed lower.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.1 percent to 20,907.95, continuing to benefit from the Chinese Communist Party's long-overdue announcement on Friday that a party congress is scheduled for Nov. 8, when President Hu Jintao will step down as party boss and Vice President Xi Jinping will succeed him.

"It means political stability is enhanced in mainland China," said Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

Japanese export shares soared on the prospect of a healing economy in the U.S. - a key market for Japanese goods including high-end vehicles. Toyota Motor Corp. jumped 3 percent and Nissan Motor Co. soared 5.1 percent.

But regional energy companies fell on slumping oil prices. Hong Kong-listed China National Offshore Oil Corp., known as CNOOC, dropped 1.6 percent.

Australian surf wear maker Billabong International Ltd., which is in takeover talks with a private equity firm, plummeted 18.3 percent amid speculation that the takeover bid may be withdrawn.

Some investors remained cautious due to events in Spain. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy denied this week that his government was about to ask for financial aid as it seeks to get a grip on its public finances.

Spain is under pressure to ask for financial assistance from the European Central Bank to keep a lid on its borrowing costs but the government has been reluctant to do so because it may come with conditions on its budget. Germany is also pushing Madrid to delay such a move because the government in Berlin is wary of presenting yet another rescue plan for a vote in parliament.

Spain's borrowing rates have come down since September when the ECB announced a new plan to buy government bonds of struggling euro countries. On Wednesday, the interest rate on the country's 10-year bond was flat around 5.75 percent.

Benchmark oil for November delivery was up 39 cents to $88.54 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $3.75, or 4.1 percent, to $88.14 per barrel in New York on Wednesday. That was the biggest decline since May 4 when oil fell $4.05 per barrel.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2934 from $1.2899 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar was nearly unchanged at 78.53 yen from 78.52 yen.