Hong Kong-listed property shares also posted solid gains, including Evergrande Real Estate Group, which jumped 6.6 percent.
Concern that the U.S. will go over the fiscal "cliff" has weighed on stocks since the Nov. 6 elections returned a divided government to power, with Obama staying in the White House and Republicans retaining control of the House of Representatives.
U.S. sales of new homes fell slightly in October, down 0.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 368,000. The government also said Tuesday that September sales were slower than initially reported.
In Europe, sentiment improved this week after Greece's bailout creditors agreed to pay its next installment of loans and outlined a series of measures to lower its debt load over the coming decade. Concerns remain, however, over the country's economy, which is expected to enter a sixth year of recession in 2013.
Benchmark oil for January delivery was up 44 cents to $86.95 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 69 cents to close at $86.49 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2976 from $1.2932 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 82.15 yen from 81.90 yen.
Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson
AP researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.
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