Asia Stocks Up As US Jobless Data Fuels Optimism

By PAMELA SAMPSON

BANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ World stock markets mostly refrained from big moves Friday as traders waited for a report on U.S. industrial production.

U.S. production figures and other data to be released later Friday are expected to show additional signs of recovery in the world's No. 1 economy, analysts said. Hope for the U.S. economy offsets worries about Europe's recession and debt woes and a brewing budget battle in Washington over automatic spending cuts, also known as sequestration in government circles.

"The trend of improving U.S. data is continuing. It's impressive it is taking place despite the drag of the sequestration and the worries about the eurozone. It shows the market is overlooking some of these concerns and looking at growth," said Mitul Kotecha of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.

Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.1 percent to 6,526.12. Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent to 8,050.43. France's CAC-40 slipped 0.3 percent to 3,861.01. Wall Street looked set for a flat open, with Dow Jones industrial futures up very narrowly to 14,453. S&P 500 futures slipped 0.1 percent to 1,555.10.

Investor optimism about the economy helped Asian stock markets Friday after Wall Street logged more gains and the U.S. job market showed further signs of strengthening.

Fewer Americans sought unemployment aid last week, reducing the average number of weekly applications last month to a five-year low. The Labor Department said Thursday that applications fell by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 332,000. That reduced the four-week average to the lowest level since the week of March 8, 2008, three months after the Great Recession began.

The drop helped propel the Dow Jones industrial average to its tenth straight sessions of gains. That hasn't happened since 1996.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.5 percent to 12,560.95 â¿¿ its highest close in more than four years â¿¿ after both houses of parliament endorsed Haruhiko Kuroda, the current president of the Asia Development Bank, to head the Bank of Japan.

The vote allows Kuroda to stand in for current Bank of Japan Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa after he steps down on March 19. Another vote is required to make Kuroda's appointment permanent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.4 percent to 22,533.11. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 1.8 percent to 5,120.20. Benchmarks in mainland China, Thailand and Indonesia rose while those in Singapore and Taiwan fell. South Korea's Kospi shed 0.8 percent to 1,986.50.

Among individual stocks, Petrochina Ltd., China's biggest oil and gas producer, fell 0.8 percent after Italian oil producer ENI said it sold a 20 percent stake in a gas field in Mozambique to the Hong Kong-listed company for $4.2 billion.

Benchmark oil for April delivery was up 15 cents to $93.18 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 51 cents to close at $93.03 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3014 from $1.3000 late Thursday in New York. The dollar was unchanged at 96.02 yen.

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Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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