Most Asian stocks up on big US-French drug merger

Most Asian stock markets were higher on Thursday as investors took heart from a major U.S.-French pharmaceutical merger and a raft of strong U.S. corporate earnings.

The Nikkei 225 stock average rose 41.28 points, 0.4 percent, to 10,849.57. Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged up 0.1 percent to 23,184.95 and the Shanghai Composite index gained 0.4 percent to 2,936.74.

Elsewhere, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.2 percent at 5,025.90. Shares in New Zealand and Malaysia were higher.

But South Korea's Kospi index slipped 0.3 percent to 1,983.59. Shares in Singapore were slightly lower.

In New York overnight, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 61.53 points, or 0.5 percent, to close at 12,288.17, its highest close since June 13, 2008. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 21.21, or 0.8 percent, to 2,825.56 on Wednesday.

French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis SA, the world's fourth-largest drug maker, said Wednesday it will buy U.S. biotechnology firm Genzyme Corp. for $20 billion in cash. The deal ended months of haggling between the companies.

Teen clothing maker Abercrombie & Fitch Co. said its fourth-quarter net income nearly doubled on strong sales overseas and better U.S. results. Cable TV giant Comcast Corp. also reported better-than-expected earnings.

In currencies, the dollar was flat at 83.54 yen in Tokyo on Thursday. The euro rose to $1.3592 from $1.3573 in New York late Wednesday.

Benchmark crude for March delivery was up 20 cents at $85.19 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 67 cents to settle at $84.99 a barrel on Wednesday.