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Asia Stocks Gain, Unfazed By NKorea Rocket Launch

By PAMELA SAMPSON

BANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ Asian stock markets rose Wednesday as a German business confidence survey alleviated concerns that Europe's largest economy might fall into recession. Investors brushed off North Korea's latest test launch of a long-range rocket.

The ZEW indicator of economic sentiment defied expectations by rising to plus 6.9 points, from minus 15.7 in November. Markets had expected the index to remain mired in negative numbers. Germany's economy grew a modest 0.2 percent in the third quarter and expectations are for another weak quarter in the last three months of the year.

Wolfgang Franz, head of the ZEW, or Centre for European Economic Research, said Tuesday the survey showed that Germany isn't facing recession unless the debt crisis afflicting euro countries reignites.

Japan protested North Korea's launch of a rocket and was convening its security council to analyze the situation. Rocket tests are seen as crucial to advancing North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions. Officials in Washington, Seoul, Tokyo and elsewhere have been urging North Korea to cancel the liftoff.

Despite the launch, Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.5 percent to 9,570.08. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.6 percent to 22,446.36. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.2 percent to 1,969.26. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.3 percent to 4,592.40.

Among individual stocks, shares of Australian mining giant BHP Billiton rose 1.2 percent after the company announced it has agreed to sell its stake in a proposed Australian gas project to Chinese state-owned energy producer PetroChina for $1.6 billion.

Traders also are watching the U.S. Federal Reserve, which began a two-day policy meeting Tuesday. Some economists expect the Fed to Wednesday announce a new bond-buying program, or quantitative easing, to boost the economy.

Wall Street Tuesday as investors hoped U.S. leaders would eventually thrash out a budget deal needed to keep a slew of tax increases and spending cuts from hitting the world's largest economy. The longer a U.S. deal fails to emerge to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic tax increases and spending cuts at the start of next year, the more fidgety investors are likely to become.

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