Asian stock markets gain on hopes for fresh European stimulus, China growth

Hopes for fresh stimulus from the European Central Bank and China's steady growth bolstered Asian stock markets Wednesday after the S&P 500 had its best day of the year.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 2.4 percent to 15,152.08 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1.6 percent to 23,451.05. China's Shanghai Composite rose 0.4 percent to 2,349.08 and Seoul's Kospi gained 1 percent to 1,934.96. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 1.2 percent to 5,387.30

EUROPE STIMULUS: As the region teeters on the brink of recession again, speculation is growing that the European Central Bank will further expand liquidity in the financial system by expanding bond purchases. Analysts say the ECB is suspected of already buying Italian bonds and might be planning to expand that to other nations.

THE QUOTE: "Analysts are divided over the spur for the rallies" in European and U.S. stock markets Tuesday, said CMC chief market strategist Michael McCarthy. "Some point to the potential for European stimulus, while others are looking to steady growth numbers from China. There is market evidence to support both hypotheses."

CHINA FACTOR: China's third quarter growth of 7.3 percent, announced Tuesday, was reassuring for investors who were expecting a sharper slowdown in the world's No. 2 economy. The figure suggests China won't reach its official 7.5 percent growth target this year but nor is the economy in a tailspin.

WALL STREET: Stocks extended their recovery from last week's swoon and have now erased much of their losses over the last two weeks. Investors were encouraged by China's growth report and strong quarterly results from Apple and other big companies. The Standard & Poor's 500 added 37.27 points, or 2 percent, to 1,941.28. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 215.14 points, or 1.3 percent, to 16,614.81. The Nasdaq rose 103.40 points, or 2.4 percent, to 4,419.48.

ENERGY: Oil prices were little changed after weeks of declines. Brent crude added 17 cents to $86.39 a barrel on the ICE exchange. Benchmark crude was down 3 cents at $82.46 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.2721 from $1.2713. The dollar rose to 107.05 yen from 106.98 yen.