With the exception of the Australian jobs data, markets were generally treated to a raft of positive news, led by Wednesday's successful debt auctions in Germany and Portugal, a rise in U.S. home-builder sentiment to its highest level since 2007 and above consensus earnings from Goldman Sachs.
Japan's Nikkei Stock Average rose 1.0%, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.5%, South Korea's Kospi Composite advanced 0.7% while New Zealand's NZX-50 rose 0.8%.
Stock Market Futures - 1/18/2012 -Updated 10.52 PM EST
I will keep updating ....
S & P 500 Futures 0.75
NASDAQ Composite Index Futures 3
Dow Jones Industrial Average Futures 11
Oil Futures 101.08
The Australian dollar dropped sharply and the stock market pared its morning session gains after data showed an unexpected drop in employment in December.
Data showed the number of employed in Australia fell 29,300, shocking markets which were expecting a gain of 6,000. The unemployment rate though came in at a lower-than-expected 5.2%, steady from November.
Analysts said markets may have overreacted to the data, with JPMorgan Economist Benjamin Jarman noting that the data showed gains in full time jobs. "The guts of it is that unemployment stayed steady," he said.
Many stocks were off their early highs, with Rio Tinto up 0.6%, Newcrest Mining up 0.4%, while Fortescue Metals was down 0.7%.
The Australian dollar bore the brunt of the negative reaction in local markets, and was recently at US$1.0391, from US$1.0430 ahead of the jobs report.
The euro also declined slightly as the positive news from Europe was tempered by the weak Australian jobs data.
The euro was fetching $1.2845 against the dollar, from $1.2867 late Wednesday in New York, and Y98.56, from Y98.86. The dollar was at Y76.72, from Y76.84.
Cyclical stocks led the rally, with financials rebounding strongly on the Goldman Sachs earnings, after the previous day's disappointment stemming from weak results from Citigroup.
In Sydney, National Australia Bank advanced 1.1% and Westpac Bank rose 0.9%, while Mizuho Financial Group jumped 1.9% and Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial advanced 1.5% in Tokyo. In Seoul, KB Financial Group climbed 1.6% and Woori Finance rose 1.0%.
Exporters in Japan, many of which have struggled amid the yen's strength, recouped some of their recent losses, with Sony up 0.8% and Toyota Motor 1.3% higher.
Spot gold was at $1,660.00 per troy ounce, up $1.10 from its global settlement on Wednesday. February Nymex crude oil futures were 74 cents higher at $101.33 per barrel on Globex.