By PAMELA SAMPSONBANGKOK (AP) â¿¿ Japan's benchmark stock index surged Friday after the dollar hit a four-year high against the yen. Markets elsewhere gained as traders digested a positive U.S. jobs report. The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo jumped 2.9 percent to close at 14,607.54, its highest level since January 2008, after the dollar traded above 100 yen for the first time in more than four years. Traders have been selling the Japanese currency in reaction to moves by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to stimulate the economy by pursuing super-loose monetary policy. The dollar also got a boost from speculation that the Fed might revisit its own aggressive monetary policies after the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday that unemployment claims dropped to a five-year low last week. European stocks rose in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.4 percent to 6,620.31. Germany's DAX rose 0.8 percent to 8,325.83. France's CAC-40 advanced 0.7 percent to 3,955.54. Futures augured gains on Wall Street. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.2 percent to 15,074 while S&P 500 futures gained 0.1 percent to 1,626.30. But South Korea's Kospi plummeted 1.8 percent to 1,944.75 amid jitters over competition with Japan, whose weakened currency puts South Korean exporters at a disadvantage. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.5 percent to 23,321.22. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.2 percent to 5,206.10. Benchmarks in the Philippines and Singapore also rose while those in Taiwan and Malaysia fell. The U.S. jobs report also raised the possibility that the Federal Reserve might reconsider some of its policies to help the economy. "This continued improvement in US jobs data, appears to have shifted the focus back to the question of asset purchase tapering if employment conditions continue to improve," said Michael Hewson of CMC Markets in a commentary. The Fed is currently buying $85 billion of government bonds a month to hold down long-term interest rates and encourage borrowing and spending. Analysts say the program has weakened the dollar against other major currencies and that an easing in its implementation could lead to a rise in the greenback.
An improvement in hiring at U.S. employers has been one of the key factors that pushed Wall Street up to record levels earlier this week.Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 68 cents to $95.71 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost 23 cents to finish at $96.39 a barrel on Nymex on Thursday. The euro fell to $1.3002 from $1.3012 late Thursday in New York. ___ Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson