Stocks buoyant after strong US economic data

PAN PYLAS
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A currency trader works in front of the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (Kospi) and the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and South Korean won, at the Korea Exchange Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012. Asian stock markets rose Tuesday as market confidence grew after the release of manufacturing data that showed improvement in Europe. South Korea's Kospi rose 2.69 percent, or 49.04 points, to close at 1,875.41. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

LONDON (AP) — Global stock markets were buoyant Tuesday after a run of solid economic news, notably out of the U.S., helped keep concerns over the European debt crisis at bay.

The euro also bounced back, trading 0.9 percent higher at $1.3062. Last week, it hit a 15-month dollar low of $1.2857 on worries that the European debt crisis will escalate this year and envelop Italy, the third-largest economy in the 17-nation eurozone.

Europe's debt woes will likely remain the main catalyst to markets over the coming days and weeks, but without any fresh bad news, trading in 2012 has got off to a solid start. Surveys showing that growth in China and India may be picking up momentum has helped shore up the underlying mood.

A strong U.S. manufacturing survey, which showed the sector growing at its fastest rate in six months, also helped sustain the buying mood on Wall Street's first trading day of the year. The Institute for Supply Management said its main index of activity rose to 53.9 in December from the previous month's 52.7, while the employment subindex spiked sharply to 55.1 from 51.8. Anything above 50 indicates expansion and augurs well for Friday's closely watched U.S. non-farm payroll figures for December.

"This provides a positive backdrop for Friday's official employment report," said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co.

The payroll figures often set the market tone for a week or two and investors will be keen to see if the recent improvement in the U.S. economic news is evident. The consensus in the markets is that the U.S. economy generated another 150,000 or so jobs during the month — a solid, if unspectacular, jobs creation in the world's largest economy.

Mounting optimism over the U.S. economy, swelled as well by forecast-busting construction data, helped many of the world's leading indexes to start 2012 off well after a year to forget.

In Europe, Germany's DAX closed up 1.5 percent at 6,166.57 while the CAC-40 in France brushed off earlier losses to end 0.7 percent higher at 3,245.40. Britain's FTSE 100 index of leading British shares, which was closed Monday when many markets got off to a flying start to the year, closed 2.3 percent higher at 5,699.91.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 2 percent at 12,459 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose by the equivalent rate at 1,283.

Europe's ongoing battle to contain a debt crisis that's threatening the future of the euro currency is likely to return to the forefront of investors' attention. Both France and Germany will be tapping bond markets this week for fairly large amounts of money, testing market confidence. Next Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be holding their first meeting of the new year.

Progress on Greece's talks with private creditors about taking a bigger loss on their Greek bonds will also be closely monitored. As part of the country's second massive financial bailout, private creditors have been asked to forgive 50 percent of their Greek holdings, but many in the markets think that's not enough. There's speculation the so-called Greek haircut may have to rise, possibly up to 75 percent.

Greece warned Tuesday that it would have to ditch the euro if it fails to finalize the second, euro130-billion ($169-billion) international bailout. Government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis said negotiations over the next three or four months with international debt monitors will "determine everything," including whether Greece escapes a disastrous bankruptcy.

Earlier, Asian stocks rose, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index, on its first trading session of 2012, jumping 2.4 percent to close at 18,877.41. South Korea's Kospi index rose 2.7 percent to 1,875.41 and Australia's S&P ASX 200 gained 1.1 percent at 4,101.20. Benchmarks in Japan and mainland China remained closed for the extended New Year's holiday.

Oil prices tracked equities sharply higher though growing tensions over the Persian Gulf between Iran and the U.S. contributed to the rise too — benchmark crude for February delivery spiked $3.32 to $102.15 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

On Tuesday, Iran's army chief warned an American aircraft carrier not to return to the Gulf, a day after Iran test-fired a surface-to-surface cruise missile. Iran has threatened to close the key oil passageway Strait of Hormuz, where one-sixth of global crude exports pass, as possible retaliation to new U.S. economic sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.

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Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.