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Australian stocks lead Asian markets higher on healthy earnings reports

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HONG KONG - Asian stock markets were mostly higher Thursday, with Australia's benchmark leading gains on a crop of healthy earnings reports.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.7 per cent to 15,317.46 while South Korea's Kospi was practically unchanged at 2,061.89. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.7 per cent to 5,552.30. But Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged 0.1 per cent lower to 24,871.55 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China fell less than 0.1 per cent to 2,221.80. Markets in Taiwan, India and the Philippines rose but in Indonesia and Thailand they fell.

AUSTRALIAN BONANZA: A batch of upbeat earnings reports are pleasing investors in Australia. Fairfax Media Ltd. jumped 7 per cent after the company returned to an annual profit after years of losses. Mobile phone company Telstra Corp. added 2 per cent after posting higher profit. Gambling operator Crown Resorts Ltd. surged 5.6 per cent after reporting profit increased by two thirds thanks to its joint venture casino operations in Macau.

PC PROFITS: No. 1 personal computer maker Lenovo Group climbed 0.5 per cent after it reported quarterly profit rose 23 per cent on stronger sales of smartphones and other mobile devices. State-owned China Mobile, the world's biggest wireless carrier by subscribers, is among the dozens of other Hong Kong-listed companies expected to report earnings later in the day.

CHINA ECONOMY: Benchmarks in Hong Kong and Shanghai were lagging indexes elsewhere in the region a day after disappointing data on the Chinese economy. Fixed investment and industrial production for July slowed, though the big surprise was the sharp drop in loan growth, which Rabobank analyst Michael Every called "shockingly low." But the declines limited on hopes that policymakers in Beijing would offer more support to the No. 2 economy.

US CUES: Investors are looking ahead to more hints on the health of the global economy with the release of U.S. unemployment benefit applications later Thursday. They come a day after U.S. retail sales edged up a tiny amount compared with the month before, fueling hopes that the Fed will maintain stimulus.

WALL STREET: The Dow gained 0.6 per cent to close at 16,651.80. The S&P 500 rose 0.7 per cent to end at 1,946.72. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite climbed 1 per cent to 4,434.13.

ENERGY: Benchmark crude oil for September delivery was down 25 cents to $97.34 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 43 cents to $104.63 in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro slipped to $1.3363 from $1.3365 in late trading Thursday. The dollar rose to 102.59 yen from 102.42 yen.

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