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Cautious rise for Asian stocks

Asian stocks have edged higher, setting aside weaker-than-expected US home sales amid hopes for an agreement on debt relief for Greece and stronger economic growth in the world's top economy

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.4% to 8,885.09. South Korea's Kospi added 0.3% to 1,963.82 and Australia's S&P ASX 200 gained 1% to 4,312.40. Benchmarks in Singapore and New Zealand also rose, while Indonesia fell.

Sentiment was positive ahead of the release of fourth-quarter gross domestic product figures by the US Commerce Department later today. GDP measures the economy's total output of goods and services.

Economists predict growth will strengthen to around 3% in the October-December quarter from about 2% in the third quarter. Analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said the reading was expected to "look healthy".

The resumption of talks on a crucial Greek debt relief deal also heartened traders. Greece and its bailout rescuers - other countries that use the euro and the International Monetary Fund - are asking private creditors to swap their Greek bonds for new ones with a lower value and interest rate.

The two sides have disagreed over what interest rate the new bonds should take and the hope is they will find a compromise shortly.

The creditors' representatives have said they aim to get a deal by Monday, when European leaders meet in Brussels.

In the US, stocks slipped after the government reported an unexpected drop in new home sales in December, capping the worst year for home sales since record-keeping began in 1963.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 0.2% at 12,734.63. The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed down 0.6% at 1,318.43. The Nasdaq shed 0.5% to close at 2,805.28.

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