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Asia: Shares mixed in quiet trade before US jobs


[HONG KONG] Asian markets were mixed on Friday in holiday-thinned trade as investors look ahead to the release of US jobs data later in the day, while Shanghai retreated on profit-taking after a recent rally.

Wall Street provided a positive lead following another round of upbeat US indicators, although the dollar dipped against the yen.

Tokyo edged up 0.37 per cent and Seoul gained 0.30 per cent.

Shanghai slipped 0.85 per cent after surging to seven year highs over the past month on hopes for fresh monetary easing by China, while Kuala Lumpur was flat.

Hong Kong, Jakarta, Singapore, Mumbai, Sydney, Wellington, Manila and Taiwan were closed for public holidays.

With few catalysts to drive trade, investors are biding their time until the release in Washington of the US non-farm payrolls figures, which will be pored over for clues about the Federal Reserve's timetable to hiking interest rates.

"We're likely to be in a wait-and-see mode today" before the jobs report and given the holidays, Juichi Wako, a senior strategist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Tokyo, told Bloomberg News.

Friday's report is expected to show the economy added a strong 250,000 jobs last month, compared with 288,000 in February, while the jobless rate is forecast to remain unchanged at 5.5 per cent.

On Wall Street the three main indexes advanced after data showed jobless claims fell last week, suggesting more tightening in the labour market, while the trade deficit shrank to a more than five-year low, which analysts said should give a boost to first-quarter economic growth.

The Dow added 0.37 per cent, the S&P 500 gained 0.35 per cent and the Nasdaq rose 0.14 per cent While the Fed is expected to raise rates by the end of the year, there is no consensus on exactly when they will go up. The chances of an early summer hike have been dampened by some soft economic figures over the past month, including this week's weak private-sector jobs figures and easing manufacturing growth.

In forex trade the dollar edged down to 119.67 yen early Friday from 119.77 yen in New York late Thursday.

The euro slipped to US$1.0869 and 130.06 yen from US$1.0879 and 130.30 yen in US trade.

Oil markets were closed for trade Friday.

Crude prices tumbled Thursday after six world powers and Iran announced they had agreed on a framework to curb the Islamic republic's nuclear drive.

With the tentative deal, if confirmed, likely to allow Iran crude exports back on the markets, Brent North Sea crude, the global benchmark contract, slumped US$2.15, settling at US$54.95 a barrel.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate shed 95 cents to close at US$49.14.

Gold fetched US$1,197.48 against US$1,203.48 late Thursday.