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Higher earnings, China data lift global stocks

SEOUL, South Korea - Global stocks were mostly higher Thursday on upbeat corporate earnings and rising Chinese factory output after the chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve said it will be patient about increasing interest rates.

Britain's FTSE 100 was nearly flat at 6,937.52 while Germany's DAX inched up 0.1 percent to 11,221.95. France's CAC 40 gained 0.2 percent to 4,892.05. Futures augured a tepid start for Wall Street, with Dow and S&P 500 futures up 0.1 percent.

Investors awaited data to assess the strength of the U.S. economic recovery, with the world's largest economy set to report consumer prices for January and weekly unemployment benefits. Economists expected that cheaper gas would drive the consumer price index down for a third straight month. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply in last Thursday's report, a sign that a recent string of strong job gains may continue.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.1 percent to 18,785.79 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 percent to 24,902.06. China's Shanghai Composite Index jumped 2.2 percent to 3,298.36. South Korea's Kospi inched up 0.1 percent to 1,993.08. But Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 percent to 5,908.50. Stocks in Southeast Asia were mostly lower while stocks in New Zealand were higher.

The preliminary version of HSBC Corp.'s purchasing managers' index showed China's manufacturing activity edged up to a four-month high in February. The index rose to 50.1 from 49.7 in January on a 100-point scale in which numbers above 50 show activity expanding. HSBC economist Qu Hongbin said it showed "marginal improvement" in manufacturing heading into the Lunar New Year holiday.

Qantas Airways Ltd., Australia's largest airline, reported its best half-year results since 2010, beating forecasts with a 206 million Australian dollar ($162 million) profit for the six months through December. Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets said the result will ease investor concern and justify a Qantas share price that has more than doubled in the last four months.

Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen's remarks in her second appearance before Congress in two days generated no market-moving news. A day earlier, Yellen suggested that the Fed is in no hurry to raise rates because too many Americans are still unemployed, wage growth is sluggish and inflation is too low.

"China's manufacturing PMI surpassed expectations in February," said Mizuho Bank in a report. "Meanwhile, Yellen's measured tone yesterday suggests that the Fed is unlikely to tighten policy rates aggressively this year. ... All this was sufficient to provide some improvement in sentiment."

"Japan has managed to extend its gains and trade at fresh cycle highs with speculation that a number of Japan's pension funds are looking to reallocate more funds to Japanese equities," said Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG.

Shares of South Korea's leading latex and condom maker Unidus Corp. shot up by the daily limit of 15 percent shortly after the country's constitutional court said adultery is no longer a crime. The court abolished a 62-year-old law that bans extramarital affairs.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 48 cents to $50.51 a barrel in New York. On Wednesday, the contract rose $1.71 to $50.99 after the U.S. Energy Department reported diesel and gasoline inventories fell more than expected, indicating a pickup in demand. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, rose 30 cents to $61.90 a barrel in London.

The dollar weakened to 118.756 yen from Wednesday's 118.874 yen, while the euro slipped to $1.1354 from $1.1361.