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Asia stocks higher on energy bounce, Europe drifts lower

TOKYO — Asian stock markets rose Wednesday on gains in energy shares and an improvement in Japanese economic data while European benchmarks drifted lower.

KEEPING SCORE: France's CAC 40 was down 0.1 percent at 4,673.24 and Germany's DAX slipped 0.5 percent to 10,839.68. Britain's FTSE 100 shed 0.3 percent to 6,853.37. Wall Street looked set for a weak session. Dow futures were down 0.1 percent at 17,552 and S&P 500 futures dropped 0.2 percent to 2,038.50.

OIL SURGE: U.S. benchmark oil surged 7 percent Tuesday on hopes for an end to a seven-month collapse in prices. Investors are hoping that oil prices have found a floor after falling as much as 60 percent from their recent peak last June. Prices have risen 19 percent in four days as producers have canceled exploration projects and cut the number of rigs drilling for oil.

JAPAN GLIMMER: Japanese wages data Wednesday showed labor income rose 1.6 percent in December from a year earlier. Increases in household incomes are an important piece of Japan's economic recovery plan. However, economists cautioned that bonus payments, which account for about half of total income each December, overstate the improvement and that wages are still lagging behind inflation.

ASIA'S DAY: Japan's Nikkei 225 stock index surged 2.0 percent to 17,678.74 on gains in energy company shares and expectations for strong corporate earnings reports. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 percent to 24,679.76 and South Korea's Kospi climbed 0.6 percent to 1,962.79. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.2 percent to 5,777.30 and markets in Southeast Asia also rose.

THE QUOTE: "Global equities may be on fire, but there are a few signs that state it's time to take a pause," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. "A number of developed markets are overbought, but the positive flows towards equities have been strong and predominantly driven by the relative attractiveness against developed market bonds."

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude eased back Wednesday in Asia, falling 84 cents to $52.21 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $3.48 to close at $53.05 on Tuesday. Brent crude, used as a benchmark for international prices, slipped 60 cents to $57.35.

CURRENCIES: The euro was little changed at $1.1457 compared with $1.1463 the previous day. The dollar fell to 117.34 yen from 117.74 yen.