Asia stocks waver, oil pushes higher on Iraq violence as investors await China data

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HONG KONG – Asian stock markets wavered Friday as investors chewed over poor U.S. retail sales as they awaited Chinese economic data. Oil prices pushed higher as an insurgency spiraled in Iraq.

Official U.S. data showed consumer spending in the world’s biggest economy increased less than expected in May while unemployment benefit applications rose. Stocks in mainland China and Hong Kong were higher ahead of the afternoon release of retail sales and industrial output in the No. 2 economy.

In Iraq, Islamic militants vowed to march on Baghdad after pushing deep into parts of the country’s Sunni heartland previously controlled by U.S. forces. U.S. officials ruled out putting troops back on the ground.

“For traders often jaded by seemingly constant news of potential geopolitical risks, the situation in Iraq looks a real concern,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “Markets have been surprised by the speed and extent of rebel incursions into the south.”

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 recouped earlier losses to add 0.3 per cent to 15,018.70. South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.2 per cent to 1,987.30.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.6 per cent to 23,316.31 and the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China added 0.9 per cent to 2,070.27. Australia’s S&P/ASX lost 0.6 per cent to 5,393.90.

On Wall Street, the Dow fell 0.7 per cent to close at 16,734.19, the Nasdaq shed 0.8 per cent to 4,297.63 and the S&P 500 lost 0.7 per cent to 1,930.11.

U.S. benchmark oil for July delivery was up 42 cents to $106.95 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $2.13 to $106.53 on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3560 from $1.3551 in late trading Thursday. The dollar rose to 101.91 yen from 101.72.

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