Asian stocks gain on Greece support plan

Asian markets were mostly higher Friday on optimism Europe's pledge to help debt-laden Greece would stave off a broader crisis among the 16 countries that use the euro.

Adding to positive sentiment were better-than-expected economic reports from the U.S. and China, which raised hopes of a strengthening recovery.

But Asia's gains were modest, held in check by unanswered questions about the shape of Europe's assistance to Greece and ongoing worries about the health of Japan's economy.

Tokyo's market, closed Thursday for a public holiday, led the region's gains. Oil slipped after jumping above $75 a barrel overnight while the euro continued its slide against the dollar.

"We've had a fairly sharp sell-off particularly in Asia for a few weeks, and we're seeing a rebound based on that," said Lorraine Tan, director of equities research at Standard & Poor's in Singapore. "There has been good news. That helps provide some confidence to the market."

On Thursday, Europe pledged to help Greece with its debt crisis. Despite offering few details of how a bailout might work, the move raised confidence that instability would not spread to countries like Portugal and Spain.

"It's more of a confidence thing at this point in time," said Tan. "I think a fair chunk of the bad news is reflected, but people are worried about the unknowns, that you could get a freeze-up in the financial system again. That's a valid concern."

A tame report Thursday on Chinese inflation also raised hopes that Beijing would not move aggressively to slow the economy and cool demand for natural resources.

The U.S. Labor Department, meanwhile, said first-time claims for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, which economists hope will signal a lasting recovery.

That good news brought some investors back to the market. Trading activity has been subdued the past few days ahead of holidays next week for the Lunar New Year in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average rose 87.28 points, 0.9 percent, to 10,051.3 and the Shanghai Composite index was up 24.47, or 0.8 percent,to 3,009.97. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 67.1, or 0.3 percent, to 20,357.79.

Elsewhere, South Korea's Kopsi dropped 7.95, or 0.5 percent, to 1,589.89. Australia's benchmark was flat while markets in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia rose. Indian markets were closed Friday for a public holiday.

In Sydny trade, shares in resource companies rose with BHP Billiton up 1.1 percent and Rio Tinto up 3.2 percent, on hopes of continuing strong Chinese demand for ore and other minerals.

Toyota Motor Corp. shares rose 2.1 percent in Tokyo after the company said its top executive will visit the U.S. in early March to meet with government officials an reassure rattled car owners after the automaker's massive recalls.

In the U.S. on Thursday, the Dow rose 105.81, or 1.1 percent, to 10,144.19, its highest close in more than a week. The S&P 500 index rose 10.34, or 1 percent, to 1,078.47. The Nasdaq composite index rose 29.54, or 1.4 percent, to 2,177.41.

Oil prices were lower in Asia, with benchmark crude for March delivery off 41 cents at $74.87. The day before it jumped 76 cents to settle at $75.28.

In currencies, the dollar fell to 89.69 yen from 89.74 late Thursday in New York. The euro fell to $1.3668 from $1.3693.