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Feb. 20, 2013, 3:48 a.m. EST

Asia stocks rise, as Korea powers ahead

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By Sarah Turner, MarketWatch

HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — Asian stocks advanced Wednesday as overseas economic data sparked buying in the region’s exporters, with South Korean shares outperforming the rest of the region.

South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -0.67% jumped 2% to 2,024.64 for its best percentage gain so far in 2013. The benchmark, among Asia’s worst performers in recent weeks, turned positive in the year to date following Wednesday’s rally.

Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK +0.34%  rose 0.8%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO +0.25%  added 0.3%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -0.17%  gained 0.7%, China’s Shanghai Composite /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 +2.30% /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 +2.30% advanced 0.6% and Taiwan’s Taiex  rose 0.9%.

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The strong region-wide performance followed a higher finish on Wall Street Tuesday, when merger-and-acquisition speculation, and hopes for improved economic prospects in Europe spurred U.S. stocks. Read: Staples wins if Office Depot, OfficeMax merge.

For Asia, the much stronger-than-expected improvement in German and overall euro-zone sentiment indexes “bodes well for recovery of growth later in the year, which would boost emerging-market stability and exports to the [euro-zone] bloc,” said Crédit Agricole strategist Guillaume Tresca.

The European Union is South Korea’s fourth-largest export destination, according to the European Commission website.

Auto major Hyundai Motor Co. /zigman2/quotes/206684590/delayed KR:005380 -1.14%   /zigman2/quotes/204364212/delayed HYMTF -6.16% gained 3.1% and its affiliate Kia Motors Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206019389/delayed KR:000270 -1.82% /zigman2/quotes/205439169/delayed KIMTF +8.21%  rose 1.9%, while heavyweight Samsung Electronics Co. /zigman2/quotes/209800866/delayed KR:005930 -0.33%   /zigman2/quotes/202367843/delayed SSNLF 0.00%  added 3.6%.

In Tokyo, Isuzu Motors Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202637468/delayed JP:7202 +0.40%   /zigman2/quotes/206362374/delayed ISUZY -0.19%  added 1.8%, while Toyota Motor Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203803129/delayed JP:7203 +2.77% /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM -1.10%  rose 1.7% after a Nikkei news report that it planned to raise domestic production by more than originally planned.

Also, data out Wednesday showed Japanese exports grew faster than expected in January, with shipments to China swinging back to growth, although the country’s trade deficit hit a record. Read: Japan exports beat forecast, but deficit at record.

Shares of Sony Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201361720/delayed JP:6758 +2.06% /zigman2/quotes/208567357/composite SNE +0.65% rose 0.3% ahead of an event at which it is expected to unveil its next-generation PlayStation videogame console. Read: Sony may step up its game with PlayStation 4.

Orix Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207025550/delayed JP:8591 +0.94%  gained 2.4% after announcing a deal late Tuesday to buy asset-manager Robeco from Dutch lender Rabobank. Read: Orix to buy Robeco from Rabobank for $2.6 billion.

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On the Chinese mainland, property firms were recouping some ground lost in the previous session, with Poly Real Estate Group Co. /zigman2/quotes/201864015/delayed CN:600048 +1.03%  rising 1.4%. The gains came after Standard & Poor’s revised its outlook for Chinese residential developers to stable from negative as sales strengthen.

Data out Wednesday showed foreign direct investment into the nation fell 7.3% in January from year-earlier levels. However, Crédit Agricole said the weak reading was largely expected, as “it takes time for businesses to make investment decisions after seeing improvement in China’s growth late last year.”

In Australia, banking and insurance group Suncorp Group Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/205779952/delayed AU:SUN +1.07%   fell 0.9% after the firm reported a 48% rise in first-half net profit which just missed analyst forecasts. Read: Suncorp profit jumps 48% on insurance boost.

Mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP +0.05%   /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP -0.25%  declined 0.9%, after news of the retirement of Chief Executive Officer Marius Kloppers and the appointment of the firm’s non-ferrous operations chief Andrew McKenzie to the role. Read: BHP Billiton CEO Marius Kloppers steps down.

The appointment means that there is “no major change to strategy expected, but perhaps a cultural change as BHP adapts to a less growth-intensive environment,” said UBS metal analysts. BHP also posted a sharp drop in first half profits.

On a busy day for Australian resource-sector earnings, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/202351558/delayed AU:FMG +1.80% /zigman2/quotes/204116626/delayed FSUMF +2.61%  fell 5% after the iron-ore extractor reported a 40% drop in first-half net profit to $478 million and advised that it won’t pay an interim dividend. Read: Fortescue posts 40% profit drop, cuts dividend.

Woodside Petroleum Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203437212/delayed AU:WPL +0.06%   /zigman2/quotes/206770672/delayed WOPEF +3.37% advanced 3.1% after the oil-and-gas firm raised its final dividend payout and reported its annual net profit nearly doubled to $2.06 billion. Read: Woodside fiscal-year net profit almost doubles.

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¥ 1,925.00
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CN : China: Shanghai
¥ 15.64
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Market Cap
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Market Cap
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AU : Australia: Sydney
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Market Cap
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AU : Australia: Sydney
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Market Cap
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Sarah Turner is MarketWatch's bureau chief in Sydney. Follow her on Twitter @SarahTurnerMKTW.

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