Asian stock markets advanced Thursday as signs of an improvement in the U.S. housing market and better-than-expected quarterly earnings from corporate majors buoyed the sentiment.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei gained 0.79 percent or 68.81 points to 8795.55, South Korean KOSPI surged 1.56 percent or 28.05 points to 1822.96 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng rallied 1.66 percent or 319.17 points to 19559.05 while Chinese Shanghai Composite gained 0.73 percent and Indian benchmark BSE Sensex advanced 0.76 percent.

Market sentiment turned positive after official data showed that the U.S. housing starts, the number of new homes and apartments being built, rose more than expected in June to its fastest pace in almost four years.

The U.S. Commerce Department said Wednesday that housing starts rose 6.9 percent to 760,000 units in June from an upwardly revised 711,000 units in May, suggesting that the housing market recovery was gaining some traction. The data also comfortably beat Reuters' estimate of 745,000 units.

Meanwhile, better-than-expected quarterly earnings from tech majors, including Intel Corp. and IBM, also buoyed the sentiment. IBM second quarter earnings beat analysts' expectations and eBay's second quarter profit jumped 23 percent on strong performance at its payments service business PayPal and e-commerce sites.

The earnings season so far has been stronger than expected. Data compiled by Bloomberg show that earnings have exceeded analyst estimates for 37 of the 51 companies listed on the S&P 500 that reported results this month.

Sentiment was helped by a 6.9 percent jump in US housing starts and positive earnings while Fed's Beige Book highlighted that growth was 'modest to moderate'. Second quarter earnings have exceeded estimates for 72 percent of S&P 500 companies reporting so far providing a further element of support to risk assets, said a note from Credit Agricole.

Technology shares rallied across the region after firmer-than-expected quarterly earnings from technology bellwethers. Advantest Corp. rallied 6.53 percent and Alps Electric surged 4.11 percent in Japan while Tencent Holdings Ltd. gained 2.52 percent in Hong Kong and Samsung Electronics surged 3.55 percent in Seoul.

Among other stocks, Hitachi rose 2.42 percent and Canon Inc gained 0.83 percent while Yaskawa Electric climbed 8.38 percent after raising its half-yearly profit guidance.

In Hong Kong, Li & Fung Ltd. advanced 0.43 percent and China Unicom Hong Kong Ltd surged 5.36 percent and CNOOC Ltd. gained 2.86 percent while Agile Property Holdings Ltd. fell 2.48 percent.