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Asian stocks edge up as investors await Yellen talk, US data

HONG KONG – Asian stock markets rose modestly while European stocks slipped Friday as the investment outlook remained uncertain ahead of U.S. economic data and remarks by the Fed chief.

KEEPING SCORE: European stocks drifted lower in early trading, with France’s CAC 40 dipping 0.2 per cent to 4,504.70 and Germany’s DAX slipping 0.2 per cent to 10,255.39. Britain’s FTSE 100 was nearly flat at 6,265.12. U.S. stocks were poised to open marginally higher, with Dow futures edging up slightly to 17,824.00 and broader S&P 500 futures up less than 0.1 per cent to 2,090.40.

FED IN FOCUS: Investors will be watching to see what Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has to say about monetary policy. She’s scheduled to hold a “conversation” about interest rates with a professor at an event at Harvard University. Policymakers have signalled that they’ll opt to raise rates again at the next Federal Open Market Committee meeting in June if economic conditions continue to improve, another step in dialing back the loose monetary policy that has supported global stock markets.

MARKET INSIGHT: “While the market implied probability of a June or July rate increase has increased in recent weeks, today’s speech by Fed Chair Yellen could be instrumental in setting the mood ahead of the June 15 FOMC meeting,” Rabobank strategist Jane Foley said in a report.

GROWTH OUTLOOK: Markets are also awaiting the latest U.S. quarterly growth figures to get a read on the health of the world’s biggest economy. Analysts expect the second of three estimates of gross domestic product, due out after Asian markets close, will be revised up to an annual 0.8 per cent rate in the January-March quarter. That’s higher than the initial 0.5 per cent estimate last month. Economists expect growth to rebound to about 2 per cent in the current quarter and get stronger as the year progresses.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index added 0.4 per cent to 16,834.84 and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.6 per cent to 1,969.17. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.9 per cent to 20,576.77, but the Shanghai Composite Index dipped less than 0.1 per cent to 2,821.05. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 per cent to 5,405.90, and benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia also rose.

CHINA CHALLENGE: Shanghai’s market struggled as disappointing data from the world’s second-biggest economy weighed on sentiment. Industrial profits rose 4.2 per cent last month compared with the year-ago period, slower than the 11.1 per cent increase in March, official data showed. It’s the latest sign of economic weakness in China, where growth slowed last year to a 25-year low of 6.9 per cent and is expected to decelerate further this year.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil lost 57 cents to $48.91 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slipped 8 cents to settle at $49.48 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell 54 cents to $49.63 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar was steady at 109.70 yen. The euro fell to $1.1183 from $1.1195.