Asian stock markets were higher Friday as signs that the U.S. economic recovery is gathering pace lifted investor sentiment following better-than-expected economic data Thursday. European shares were also expected to open higher, helped by a 0.5 percent rise in S&P 500 index futures that pointed to further gains when U.S. trading resumes. Investors were encouraged by weekly U.S. jobless claims, which fell to their lowest level since mid-April 2008, as well as an index of leading economic indicators, which rose for a seventh consecutive month. However, uncertainty over the outlook for the eurozone remained a key concern as the new year approaches. Australia\'s S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.9%, South Korea\'s Kospi Composite jumped 1.0% and New Zealand\'s NZX-50 added 0.6%. \"Better U.S. data has helped sentiment,\" Stephen Halmarick, Sydney-based head of investment markets research at Colonial First State Global Asset Management told media. \"The (European) debt crisis will clearly remain a key negative for markets early in the new year.\"