Asian stocks up on US housing data, Cisco earnings

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Encouraging signs about the U.S. housing market and strong earnings from U.S. tech giant Cisco helped lift Asian stock markets higher in early trading Friday.

The U.S. government reported that construction of single-family homes dipped last month, but building permits jumped to their highest level since August 2008, a hint of stronger construction in the coming months. Meanwhile, Cisco Systems, the world's largest maker of computer networking equipment, reported earnings late Wednesday that beat expectations.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.6 percent to 9,150.93. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.6 percent to 20,071.57 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.4 percent to 4,348.80. South Korea's Kospi fell, however, by 0.6 percent to 1,946.30.

Markets also took encouragement from remarks by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said Thursday that Germany is committed to doing everything it can to maintain the euro.

Last month, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the bank would do "whatever it takes" to preserve the euro — and markets surged on hopes of action. Merkel supported Draghi's comments Thursday during an official visit to Canada.

"What he said is something we repeated time and again since the beginning of the Greek difficulties more than two years ago. We feel committed to do everything we can to maintain the common currency," Merkel said at a news conference.

The 17 countries that use the euro have been struggling for the past three years to cope with huge debts and recessions. Spain and Italy, the two chief trouble spots, are threatened with a financial collapse that could tear the 13-year-old currency union apart and rock the global economy.

Fears are mounting that Spain may be next to seek an emergency financial bailout, following Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Cyprus. Meanwhile, Italy faces the daunting task of keeping a handle on its huge debt load while fighting a recession.

In the U.S. on Thursday, the Dow rose 85.33 points to 13,250.11, an increase of 0.6 percent and 29 points away from its May 1 peak of 13,279. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 9.98 points to close at 1,415.51, less than four points shy of its April 2 high. The Nasdaq composite rose 31.46 points to 3,062.39.

Benchmark oil fell 21 cents to $95.39 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.27 to finish at $95.60 per barrel in New York on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2357 from $1.2362 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 79.38 yen from 79.25 yen.