Asian stocks mostly after weak US economy report

Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly weaker Friday after a government report showed the U.S. economy shrank in the first quarter and the U.S. dollar lost value against major Asian currencies.

Japan's Nikkei 225 declined 0.5 percent to 14,610.45 and South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.4 percent to 2,005.18. Earlier Friday, the South Korean won strengthened to the highest level against the U.S. dollar in more than five years.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.2 percent to 5,509.60. Markets in Indonesia, Taiwan and New Zealand also fell.

But Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2 percent to 23,062.25.

Figures from the Commerce Department showed that the U.S. economy, the world's largest, shrank by an annualized rate of 1 percent in the January-March period, far worse than the initial estimate of a 0.1 percent contraction.

Much of the blame has been pinned on the brutal winter weather that engulfed large parts of the U.S. in the early part of the year. As such, analysts said the data provide few insights about the underlying strength of the U.S. economy.

But investors in Asia didn't take heart from figures suggesting U.S. unemployment continues to fall. The Labor Department said the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell by a bigger-than-anticipated 27,000 to 300,000 last week. The fall took the 4-week moving average down to its lowest level since August 2007.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.4 percent at 16,698.74 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite rose 0.5 percent to 4,247.95. The broader S&P 500 index rose 0.5 percent to another record high 1,920.03. Volume also remained light in the U.S.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude for July delivery was down 19 cents to $103.39 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 86 cents to close Thursday at $103.58.

In currencies, the euro was nearly flat at $1.3603 from $1.3602 late Thursday. The dollar fell to 101.62 yen from 101.73 yen.