Asia shares higher as oil eases, Wall Street gains

Asian shares regained their nerve Tuesday following signs the world's No. 1 economy may be improving and as the price of oil stabilized despite a violent rebellion in OPEC-member Libya.

Crude oil hovered above $97 a barrel as traders mulled whether political upheaval in Libya will spread to other oil-rich countries. In currencies, the dollar rose against the yen and the euro.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average was up 1.2 percent at 10,754.03 after fresh data showed the country's jobless rate held steady in January.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng crossed the line into positive territory after a morning slump, up 0.1 percent to 23,369.21.

The benchmark overcame a pull by shares in HSBC Holdings, which dropped 4.7 percent after the banking giant released an earnings report Monday that was full of "unfavorable figures," according to Francis Lun, general manager of Fulbright Securities in Hong Kong. "HSBC is singing the blues," Lun said. "Their profit was below forecasts."

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.1 percent to 4,826.40. Struggling shopping mall operator Centro Properties Group announced it had agreed to sell its 588 U.S. malls to New York-based Blackstone Group LP for $9.4 billion — less than their book value. Centro's stock plummeted 13.3 percent on the news.

China's Shanghai Composite index rose 0.6 percent to 2,923.56, rising despite a report showing China's manufacturing boom slowed to a six-month low in February as authorities tightened controls on credit to cool inflation and factories eased output. Despite declining for three months, the reading has remained above 50, the benchmark for expansion, for two straight years.

Shares in Singapore, New Zealand and Taiwan were also higher. South Korea's Kospi index was closed for a public holiday.

The mostly positive showing came after solid gains on Wall Street. Reports that Libyan ports had reopened to oil tankers and that Saudi Arabia was boosting crude exports relieved pressure on oil prices. Sentiment was also boosted by U.S. government data that showed consumer incomes rose in January.

In Washington later Tuesday, the Institute for Supply Management is scheduled to release its manufacturing index for February. Analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said they expected the survey to be strong, based on regional surveys showing improvements.

"The simple point is that the manufacturing sector is doing very well and all signs point toward continued, if not stronger, growth ahead — growth that would help hasten the final phase of the recovery: that related to labor markets," DBS said in a report. "At least one is able to say that things are moving in the right direction."

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.8 percent to close at 12,226.34, while the broader Standard and Poor's 500 climbed 0.6 percent to 1,327.22. Despite falls last week as the violence in Libya unfolded, both posted their third straight month of gains in February.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was up 55 cents at $97.52 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost 91 cents to settle at $96.97 on Monday.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 82.12 yen from 81.92 yen late Monday. The euro slipped to $1.3815 from $1.382.

(This version CORRECTS Updates market levels, oil prices, currencies. Adds China manufacturing data; Corrects that Kospi index is closed)