BANGKOK (AP) — Investor optimism about the economy pushed Asian stock markets higher 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.
Mitul Kotecha of Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said U.S. industrial 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. 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.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 1.1 percent to 12,512.23 after both houses of parliament endorsed Haruhiko Kurodo, 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 rose 0.6 percent to 22,761.33. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 1.6 percent to 5,089.40. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, mainland China and Indonesia also rose. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.7 percent to 1,989.26. Benchmarks in the Philippines and Malaysia also fell.
The Dow rose 0.6 percent to close at 14,539.14. The S&P 500 index gained 0.6 percent to 1,563.23. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.4 percent to 3,258.93. In addition to positive jobs data, record corporate profits and reassurances from Federal Reserve officials that they plan to keep interests rates at historically low levels have also helped push stocks higher.
Among individual stocks, Petrochina Ltd., China's biggest oil and gas producer, was flat 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 26 cents to $93.29 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 $1.3023 from $1.3000 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 96.11 yen from 96.02 yen.
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