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Asia Stocks Down On US, China Economic Fears

By PAMELA SAMPSON

BANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ Asian stock markets rose Friday, finding renewed strength from a fall in U.S. jobless benefit claims and an interest rate cut by the European Central Bank intended to boost the region's ebbing economy.

Investors jittery over the state of the U.S. economy took heart from a U.S. Labor Department report that said applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in more than four years. That calmed fears that intensified Wednesday following the release of reports showing lackluster hiring and factory output.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.8 percent to 22,853.89. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.1 percent to 5,134.50. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 percent to 1,958.41. Benchmarks in mainland China and the Philippines also rose. New Zealand and Singapore fell.

Markets in Japan were closed for a public holiday.

An interest rate cut by the European Central Bank gave markets in Europe a small lift Thursday. The central bank, which sets interest rates for the 17 European Union countries that use the euro, cut the rate by a quarter of a percentage point to a new record low of 0.5 percent.

The decision was widely anticipated following a grim run of economic data for the eurozone, which is expected to stay in recession when first-quarter figures are released later this month.

"Importantly, core countries have been increasingly affected by weakening growth prospects and it remains to be seen whether the German economy can rebound strongly any time soon," said analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in a market commentary.

The Labor Department report and higher profits from CBS, Facebook and other companies sent Wall Street higher Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.9 percent to 14,831.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.9 percent to 1,597.59. The Nasdaq composite index climbed 1.3 percent to 3,340.62.

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