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Asia Stocks Modestly Higher Friday

By Pamela Sampson

BANGKOK -- Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday as momentum carried over from yet another record high on Wall Street.

Trading remained thin, however, as stock, bond and commodities markets were closed for Good Friday in the U.S. and Europe, along with large parts of Asia.

The Standard and Poor's 500 index closed Thursday at its highest level, driven by more encouraging data on the U.S. economic recovery. The government said the economy grew at an annual rate of 0.4% in the October-December quarter, slightly better than previous estimates. The revision reflected stronger business investment and export sales.

Those markets open in Asia reflected the good news out of the U.S.: South Korea's Kospi rose 0.6% to 2,004.89. Taiwan's TAIEX advanced 0.7% to 7,918.61.

Japan's Nikkei reversed early losses to rise 0.5% and close at 12,397.91. Gains were muted, however, as the yen leveled off against the dollar and the government released figures for February showing the country's jobless rate edging up while industrial production fell slightly.

Newly appointed central bank governor Haruhiko Kuroda has pledged to work with the government to end decades of growth-inhibiting deflation. His outspoken calls for action have raised hopes for results but some analysts said they may also have created unrealistic expectations for a turnaround.

"Unfortunately, the markets' expectations of the new Governor are so high that they will be almost impossible to meet, let alone beat," said analysts at Capital Economics in a market commentary.

Shares in mainland China were mostly flat amid limited trading volume, analysts said. The Shanghai Composite Index was nearly unchanged at 2,236.62 while the Shenzhen Composite Index fell 0.2% to 927.89.

Peng Yunliang, a Shanghai-based analyst, said shares in brokerage houses declined following the release Thursday of official policies aimed at tightening control over wealth management products.

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