Asian markets mostly up in year-end push

Associated Press

MUMBAI, India (AP) — Asian markets were mostly up Friday as investors followed the lead of buoyant Wall Street traders encouraged by recent numbers indicating the U.S. economy is picking up. Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei index edged down on profit-taking after it reached a five-year high the previous day.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose by 0.3 percent to 23,247.40, and China's Shanghai composite gained by 1.0 per cent to 2,191.24, after the Chinese Cabinet said this year's economic growth would be 7.6 percent, down only slightly from last year's 7.7 percent. Fears of a sharp slowdown in the world's second-largest economy had fueled market jitters earlier in the year.

South Korea's Kospi index edged 0.2 percent higher to 2,191.24 and Taiwan's Taiex rose 0.6 percent to 8,532.75. The Sensex index on the Bombay Stock Exchange was up 0.5 percent to 21,183.03.

Japan's Nikkei shed 0.3 percent to 16,120.99 as traders apparently sold off to collect profits from a five-year high the previous day as the weaker yen was expected to boost exports. The Nikkei has had a spectacular year, up more than 50 percent since January 4.

Asian traders were apparently encouraged by an unexpectedly large drop in claims for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, the latest sign that the American job market is improving, which would benefit countries like China and others that depend on U.S. orders to drive their own exports.

On Wall Street on Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 122.33 points, or 0.8 percent, to 16,479.88. The index is up 25.8 percent so far in 2013, on pace to have its best year since 1996.

In foreign exchange markets, the dollar edged up to 104.81 Japanese yen while the euro was flat at $1.374.

Oil prices edged down but stayed above $99 on Friday as violence in South Sudan stoked concerns about the African nation's oil production. Benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery was off 15 cents at $99.40 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.