BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets rose Friday after the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week, offsetting a somber economic forecast by the European Central Bank for a bleak year ahead in the region.
The U.S. Labor Department said Thursday that applications dropped 25,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 370,000, a level consistent with modest hiring. The number of people continuing to receive unemployment aid also fell.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index was marginally higher at 9,546.65. South Korea's Kospi added 0.5 percent to 1,958.41. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.9 percent to 4,548.90. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.3 percent to 22,308.07.
Mainland Chinese shares posted substantial gains after recent sharp sell-offs. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.2 percent to 2,053.86. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index jumped 1.5 percent to 781.48.
Chris Weston of IG Markets in Melbourne said the upcoming release on Sunday of inflation, retail sales and factory output data from China is expected to point to a modestly improving economy. That helped boost mainland stocks.
"China is seeing modest buying, which could be a sign that investors there are hoping to see further signs of a recovery in this Sunday's data dump," said Weston.
Traders were also looking forward to next week's meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers. Weston said he expected Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke to announce new measures to replace Operation Twist, a program under which the Fed sells $45 billion a month in short-term Treasurys and then buys an equal amount of long-term securities. The program expires in December.
"If it doesn't get announced, then there are real risks that we'll see a sizeable sell-off in risk assets," he said.