Asia stocks rise as data shows US layoffs easing
BANGKOK—Asian stocks rose Friday amid improving U.S. jobs and manufacturing data and the expected approval in Italy of an austerity plan intended to get the country's finances under control.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index was 0.4 percent higher at 8,409.08. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.5 percent to 1,827.04 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 percent to 18,107.23. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and mainland China also rose.
Later Friday, the Italian government will hold a critical confidence vote in the lower house of parliament on a multibillion euro austerity package.
Despite widespread opposition, the plan aimed at persuading bond markets that the country can emerge from the widening European debt crisis is expected to pass. The country now sits on a 1.9 trillion euros ($2.5 trillion) powder keg of debt that could spark a global economic recession if a default occurs.
"While the plan will very likely get the required support from MPs, it will be important to see whether amendments are proposed in terms of spending cuts and implementation schedule, in particular," Frederik Ducrozet, an economist at Credit Agricole CIB, said in a research note.
Retailers led Australia stocks down. JB Hi-Fi tumbled 14.4 percent after surprising investors with a profit warning late Thursday. David Jones lost 4 percent. Myer Holdings fell 5.2 percent.
Resource shares were muted as commodities, including industrial metals and oil, fell amid lingering worries over Europe's debt crisis. Hong Kong-listed PetroChina Co. lost 0.2 percent and China National Offshore Oil Corp., or CNOOC, fell 0.6 percent. Australia's OZ Minerals lost 1.5 percent.
Investor sentiment rose after the U.S. government reported that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week to 366,000, the fewest since May 2008. That's a sign that layoffs are easing, a first step toward bringing down the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 8.6 percent.
Traders were also encouraged by a report from the Federal Reserve of New York that its index measuring regional manufacturing jumped to the highest level since May. That was far more than economists were expecting. A similar report from the Philadelphia branch of the Fed also increased more than analysts anticipated.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.4 percent to 11,868.81. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.3 percent to 1,215.76. The Nasdaq rose marginally to 2,541.01.
Benchmark oil for January delivery was up 2 cents to $93.89 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.08 to finish at $93.87 per barrel on Nymex on Thursday.
In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.3038 from $1.3011 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 77.85 yen from 77.91 yen.