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Asia stocks mostly down on US rates expectations

Most Asian markets slipped on Monday as a strong US jobs report fuelled expectations the Federal Reserve will bring forward an interest rate rise.

[HONG KONG] mMost Asian markets slipped on Monday as a strong US jobs report fuelled expectations the Federal Reserve will bring forward an interest rate rise.

But more poor Chinese data lifted Shanghai on hopes of renewed easing measures.

Oil prices advanced after last week enjoying their best weekly gains in four years. Traders are also watching events in Europe as Greece's new anti-austerity government prepares to meet its creditors.

Tokyo ended 0.36 per cent higher, adding 63.43 points to 17,711.93 as the yen softened against the dollar in reaction to the US jobs data. Shanghai finished up 0.62 per cent, or 19.22 points, at 3,095.12.

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But Sydney, which jumped more than 10 per cent during a 12-day winning streak, ended marginally lower, giving up 5.3 points to 5,814.9.

Seoul closed 0.44 per cent, or 8.52 points, lower at 1,947.00 and in the afternoon Hong Kong gave up 0.36 per cent.

China on Sunday said exports fell 3.2 per cent year-on-year in January. Imports plunged 19.7 per cent - the largest drop in five years - owing to lower commodity prices and sluggish domestic demand.

The figures are the latest illustration of China's slowing economy, which in 2014 expanded at its lowest rate in 24 years.

However, mainland Chinese traders took the news as a catalyst to buy, with hopes that leaders will further loosen monetary policy.

Last week authorities cut the amount of cash which banks must keep in reserve and in November they lowered interest rates.

Investors are also tracking the US Fed after a better-than-expected jobs report on Friday increased the chances of an early rate increase.

The Labor Department said 257,000 jobs were created in January and it revised upward already healthy growth in the prior two months. It also said hourly wage growth gained 0.5 per cent, a big improvement after a December drop.

"This US jobs report has altered market expectations for rate rises from the Fed, with many now expecting the Fed to raise rates in the early summer," said Stewart Richardson, chief investment officer at RMG Wealth Management LLP in London.

"We will see just how brave the Fed will be," he told Bloomberg News.

Wall Street's three main indexes ended lower Friday. The Dow dipped 0.34 per cent, the S&P 500 also lost 0.34 per cent and the Nasdaq gave up 0.43 per cent.

The dollar rallied Friday following the announcement, climbing to 119.00 yen in New York from 117.33 yen in Tokyo earlier in the day. On Monday it was at 118.90 yen.

The euro bought US$1.1323 and 134.63 yen on Monday against US$1.1316 and 134.65 yen in US trade.

On oil markets the two main contracts extended their recent gains following the US jobs data as well as a decline in the number of US rigs drilling.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for March delivery rose 36 US cents to US$52.05, while Brent crude for March rose 10 US cents to US$57.90 in afternoon trade.

Last week saw WTI surge seven per cent and Brent add 9.4 per cent, their best weekly gains since February 2011.

Gold fetched US$1,239.28 an ounce, against US$1,264.34 on Friday.