Asia Stocks Up As US Jobs, China Exports Improve

By PAN PYLAS

LONDON (AP) â¿¿ Markets were headed for a solid close to what has been a historic week after the release of forecast-busting U.S. payrolls figures for February.

However, with many stock indexes trading at multi-year highs and the Dow having notched up another record, it's perhaps not much of a surprise that the frenzied buying has eased. With investors booking some profits ahead of the weekend, stocks have given up a large chunk of their earlier gains.

Nevertheless, the payrolls figures reported by the Labor Department have the potential to shore up markets over the coming days and weeks. They often do.

The figures provided further evidence that the U.S. economy, the world's largest, is in relatively rude health. It generated 236,000 jobs during February, way ahead of expectations for a gain of about 170,000. Some of the increase was offset by a downward revision to January's figure to 119,000 from an initially estimated 157,000.

The fall in the unemployment rate, to 7.7 percent in February from 7.9 percent the previous month, also confirmed that the U.S. labor market is on the right track and reinforced the upbeat mood surrounding the U.S. economy. February's unemployment rate was the lowest since December 2009.

In the first hour or two after the figures were released, stocks gained further ground before shedding some of those gains.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.4 percent at 6,463 while the CAC-40 in France rose 0.9 percent to 3,827. Germany's DAX was 0.4 percent higher at 7,968, having earlier made its first foray above 8,000 since the start of 2008.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average briefly broke above 14,400 for the first time ever before settling back to trade 0.4 percent higher at 14,353. The broader S&P 500 index rose 0.1 percent to 1,545.

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