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Asian stock markets rise after aluminum giant Alcoa forecasts stronger demand

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BANGKOK - Asian stock markets rose Wednesday after the fourth-quarter earnings season got off to a positive start in the U.S. with aluminum giant Alcoa forecasting higher demand for 2013.

Demand for aluminum has been hurt by the weak global economy, but Alcoa predicted a 7 per cent increase in demand this year, slightly better than the 6 per cent increase in 2012. Because Alcoa makes aluminum for so many key industries, investors study its results for clues about the health and direction of the overall economy.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.3 per cent to 23,188.77 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.4 per cent to 4,709.50. South Korea's Kopsi was marginally higher at 1,998.84.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index opened lower on a strengthening yen but reversed course as the currency slipped against the dollar. The benchmark in Tokyo gained 0.5 per cent to 10,559.24.

European stock markets fell Tuesday on a report showing unemployment in the 17 countries that use the euro hit 11.8 per cent in December, a record high and up from 11.7 per cent the previous month.

Major indexes surged last week after U.S. lawmakers passed a bill to avoid a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases that have come to be known as the fiscal cliff. The deal, however, remains incomplete, and trading has been cautious since then. Politicians will face another deadline in two months to agree on more spending cuts.

U.S. stocks closed lower Tuesday, before Alcoa's earnings report was released. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 0.4 per cent to 13,328.85. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.3 per cent to 1,457.15. The Nasdaq composite index shed 0.2 per cent to 3,091.81.

Benchmark crude for February delivery was up 7 cents to $93.21 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 4 cents to close at $93.15 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3075 from $1.3084 Tuesday in New York. The dollar rose to 87.45 yen from 87.19 yen.

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