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Japanese Market Surges

The Japanese stock market is surging on Thursday, its first trading day of the year, buoyed by the record closing highs overnight on Wall Street and a weaker yen.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is gaining 522.09 points or 2.29 percent to 23,287.03, off a high of 23,288.85 earlier. 216 of the 225 stocks on the Nikkei Index are advancing.

The major exporters are higher on a weaker yen. Sony is up 3 percent, Mitsubishi Electric is gaining almost 3 percent, Panasonic is rising almost 2 percent and Canon is advancing more than 1 percent. SoftBank is gaining more than 3 percent.

In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is higher by 2 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is adding more than 2 percent.

Among automakers, Toyota and Honda are advancing almost 2 percent each. In the oil space, Inpex is adding more than 3 percent and Japan Petroleum Exploration is higher by more than 2 percent after crude oil prices rose to its highest level since December 2014.

Among the market's best performers, Tokai Carbon is rising almost 8 percent, Showa Denko is gaining almost 7 percent and Screen Holdings is advancing more than 5 percent.

In economic news, the latest survey from Nikkei showed that the manufacturing sector in Japan continued to expand in December, and at an accelerated pace, with a manufacturing PMI score of 54.0. That's up from 53.6 in November, and it moves further above the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 112 yen-range on Thursday.

On Wall Street, stocks again closed at record highs on Wednesday as upbeat data on manufacturing data and construction spending added to recent optimism about the economic outlook. In addition, the minutes of the Federal Reserve's December meeting showed most participants reiterated their support for continuing a gradual approach to raising interest rates.

The Dow rose 98.67 points or 0.4 percent to 24,922.68, the Nasdaq advanced 58.63 points or 0.8 percent to 7,065.53 and the S&P 500 climbed 17.25 points or 0.6 percent to 2,713.06.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on Wednesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.3 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index both climbed by 0.8 percent.

Crude oil futures continued to soar Wednesday, rising above $61 a barrel for the first time since December 2014. WTI crude for February delivery rose $1.26 or 2.1 percent to $61.63 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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