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Asian markets mostly up after US gains

[HONG KONG] Asian shares mostly climbed for a third straight day Friday following more advances on Wall Street, while bargain-buying helped oil recover slightly from its latest sell-off.

The euro edged up but struggled to make sizeable gains against the dollar, weighed down by expectations the European Central Bank will unleash a vast easing programme at the same time as the US Federal Reserve plots an interest rate hike.

Tokyo gave back most of its early gains but ended marginally higher, adding 0.18 per cent, or 30.63 points, to 17,197.73. Seoul surged 1.05 per cent, or 20.05 points, to 1,924.70 and Sydney rose 1.56 per cent, or 84.15 points, to close at 5,465.6.

Hong Kong added 0.35 per cent, or 84.42 points, to 23,919.95, but Shanghai slipped 0.24 per cent, or 8.05 points, to 3,285.41.

The mainland Chinese market swung wildly through the day, at one point adding 3.38 per cent following news that Chinese inflation edged up in December but fell well short of the government's target for the full year.

Confidence has picked up over the past few days as analysts predict the ECB will launch a huge bond-buying scheme - known as quantitative easing (QE) - to kickstart the eurozone economy.

Expectations were fanned when data Wednesday showed consumer prices in the currency bloc had fallen for the first time since October 2009, during the depths of the financial crisis.

A pause in the downward spiral of oil prices also provided some relief after a report showed US stockpiles had fallen last week, fuelling hope that demand is picking up.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for February delivery edged up 17 cents to finish at US$48.96 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for February rose one cent to US$50.97.

Eyes are now on a closely followed US jobs report due later in the day, with forecasts for another sharp rise in new posts, giving the Fed more ammunition to lift interest rates.

The release Wednesday of minutes from the bank's December meeting boosted spirits after it showed policymakers are unlikely to announce a hike until at least April.

In New York the Dow surged 1.84 per cent, the S&P 500 jumped 1.79 per cent and the Nasdaq gained 1.84 per cent. And markets in Frankfurt, Paris and Milan closed up more than 3 per cent.

"When it comes to US economic reports there's nothing more important to the Fed than labour market numbers," said Kathy Lien of BK Asset Management.

"The December employment report is scheduled for release on Friday and the big question is whether the strength in November carried into December." On currency markets the euro, which slipped below US$1.18 Thursday for the first time since 2009, bought US$1.1806 on Friday, compared with US$1.1795 in New York Thursday afternoon. It also fetched 140.94 yen against 141.15 yen.

The dollar was at 119.39 yen Friday, compared with 119.65 yen in US trade.

In China the government said inflation came in at 1.5 per cent in December, in line with forecasts and up from the five-year low of 1.4 per cent the previous month.

However, for the full year 2014, consumer inflation was 2.0 per cent, down from 2.6 per cent in 2013 and well below the government's target of about 3.5 per cent.

The soft inflation figures are the latest showing a slowdown in the world's number two economy, with manufacturing, trade and investment all weak.

Gold fetched US$1,211.42 an ounce, compared with US$1,206.35 on Thursday.

In other markets: - Taipei fell 0.24 per cent, or 22.45 points, to 9215.58.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. fell 2.9 per cent to NT$134.0 while smartphone maker HTC rose 1.37 per cent to NT$148.0.

- Wellington rose 0.19 per cent, or 10.79 points, to 5,584.84.

Fletcher Building was up 1.11 per cent at NZ$8.21 while Meridian Energy eased 1.12 per cent to NZ$1.76.

- Manila added 0.48 per cent, or 35.09 points, to 7,402.72.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone rose 1.86 per cent to 2,954.00 pesos and Metropolitan Bank was up 1.21 per cent at 88.15 pesos.

- Mumbai rose 0.67 per cent, or 183.67 points, to end at 27,458.38.

Hindustan Unilever rose 5.94 per cent to 863.50 rupees, while National Thermal Power Corp fell 3.31 per cent to 140.15 rupees.

- Bangkok closed up 0.51 per cent, or 7.80 points, to 1,529.42.

Bank of Ayudhya jumped 11.73 per cent to 50.00 baht, while telecoms company True Corporation gained 5.26 per cent to 12.00 baht.

- Kuala Lumpur gained 0.25 per cent, or 4.38 points, to 1,732.44.

Industrial conglomerate DRB-Hicom rose 3.14 per cent to end at RM1.64, while mobile telecom provider Maxis gained 1.47 per cent to close at RM6.90.

AFP