Asian markets bounce as US economic data helps investors overlook Fed tightening fears

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HONG KONG – Asian stock markets rebounded Friday as upbeat U.S. economic data helped shake off worries about future increases in U.S. interest rates.

Trading was subdued as Japanese markets were closed for a public holiday.

The Conference Board index of leading indicators, a measure of U.S. economic health, rose in February by the largest amount in three months, suggesting growth should bounce back following a harsh winter. Separately, U.S. jobless benefits rose to near pre-recession levels, suggesting stable job market in the world’s largest economy.

The numbers helped to perk up stocks after Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen unsettled investors by suggesting earlier this week that U.S. interest rates could rise sooner than markets were anticipating.

“Better than expected data helped but will prove to be a double-edged sword as it increases the odds of Fed monetary tightening during 2015,” Credit Agricole CIB strategist Dariusz Kowalczyk said in a commentary. “We expect range-bound currency and rates trading in Asia today, and slightly firmer stock markets.”

South Korea’s Kospi dropped climbed 0.7 per cent to 1,932.41 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.3 per cent to 21,235.11. The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China advanced 0.8 per cent to 2,009.29. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 rose 0.4 per cent to 5,316.30.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained or 0.7 per cent to 16,331.05 on Thursday and the Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 0.6 per cent to 1,872.01. The Nasdaq composite climbed 0.3 per cent to 4,319.29.

In currencies, the euro rose slightly to $1.3784 from $1.3779 in late trading Thursday. The dollar dipped to 102.34 Japanese yen from 102.39.

Oil prices fell. Benchmark crude oil for May delivery was down 36 cents to $98.54 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 27 cents to settle at $98.90 on Thursday.

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