Asian stocks muted ahead of US jobs report


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian stock markets were little changed Friday after the European Central Bank refrained from further easing of monetary policy and investors looked to the upcoming U.S. jobs report for a new trading cue.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 edged up 0.1 percent to 15,091.33 while Seoul's Kospi drifted down 0.1 percent to 1,991.01. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was nearly unchanged at 22,549.74.

Mainland China's Shanghai Composite was up 0.3 percent to 2,049.36 while Australia's S&P ASX/200 was flat at 5,408.70. Stocks in Indonesia were the biggest losers, down 0.6 percent. Other Asian markets were mostly flat.

The U.S. March jobs report will be released early Friday morning in Washington. Many economists think it will show a bounce-back in hiring by employers who held off adding staff during winter.

A strong jobs report would boost confidence that that U.S. economic recovery is on track while also reinforcing expectations that interest rate hikes are in the pipeline after the Federal Reserve ends its bond purchasing program that has provided extraordinary monetary stimulus.

Asia is "a market that is really keen to see a genuine improvement in U.S. data again," IG's Chief Strategist Chris Weston said in a market commentary.

Earlier in Europe, sentiment was mixed after the ECB did not cut interest rates or announce any new stimulus measures, as some had been hoping.

The ECB decided to leave its main interest rate at a record-low 0.25 percent. ECB President Mario Draghi dismissed fears that consumer prices might fall in countries that use the euro common currency, but stressed that the bank was ready to act if inflation remained low.

Germany's DAX closed almost 0.1 percent higher at 9,628.82 while France's CAC 40 rose 0.4 percent to 4,449.33. Britain's FTSE 100 shed 0.2 percent to 6,649.14.

On Wall Street, the Standard & Poor's 500 fell 2.13 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,888.77. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.45 point, or less than 0.1 percent, to 16,572.55. The Nasdaq composite fell 38.72 points, or 0.9 percent, to 4,237.74.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery was up 4 cents to $100.32 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 67 cents Thursday to close at $100.29.

The euro fell to $1.3714 from $1.3720 late Thursday. The dollar was steady at 103.91 yen.