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Asian stock markets rebound as US housing starts, corporate earnings reports cheer investors

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BANGKOK - Asian stock markets rose Wednesday, boosted by a strong U.S. housing report and better-than-expected corporate earnings that added further evidence of an improvement in the world's No. 1 economy.

U.S. builders started construction on 1 million homes last month, the highest level since June 2008, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. The government also said consumer prices declined last month as the cost of gas fell sharply while food prices were unchanged, the latest evidence that inflation is in check.

On the corporate side, robust quarterly earnings provided additional reason to wade back into stocks. Coca-Cola, the world's biggest beverage maker, issued first quarter earnings that beat Wall Street forecasts. As of Monday, 34 companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 had reported earnings and 20 had exceeded analysts' expectations.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1 per cent to 13,355.32. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.1 per cent to 21,694.42. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.9 per cent to 4,995. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines also rose.

But South Korea's Kospi fell 0.3 per cent to 1,917.13 as tensions lingered on the Korean Peninsula.

Investors were choosing to put aside the International Monetary Fund's dour assessment of global growth. The IMF on Tuesday said it was lowering its outlook for the world economy this year, predicting that government spending cuts will slow U.S. growth and keep the euro currency countries in recession. The international lending organization cut its forecast for global growth to 3.3 per cent this year, down from its January forecast of 3.5 per cent.

Wall Street rebounded Tuesday after its worst day of the year. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.1 per cent to close at 14,756.78. The S&P 500 index rose 1.4 per cent to 1,574.57. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.5 per cent to 3,264.63.

European markets posted further declines Tuesday in the wake of a downbeat investor survey for Germany. The closely watched ZEW index fell from 48.5 points to 36.3 in April in a sign of growing investor fears over the strength of the German recovery amid widespread debt problems in Europe.

Benchmark oil for May delivery rose 10 cents to $88.82 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 1 cent to close at $88.72 on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3175 from $1.3188 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar rose to 98.23 yen from 97.44 yen.

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Follow Pamela Sampson on twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson

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