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Asia stocks mixed after Wall Street lurches higher

business Updated: Aug 12, 2011 11:29 IST

AP
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Asian stock markets struggled to find their footing Friday, giving back morning gains despite a dramatically higher finish on Wall Street prompted by a slight drop in US unemployment claims.

Global markets have fluctuated wildly this week as signs the US might be headed toward recession rattled investors already unnerved by Europe's worsening debt crisis.

Oil prices fell below $85 a barrel as investors tried to make sense of a week of wild gyrations in the equity and commodities markets. The dollar weakened against the yen and rose against the euro.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.1 percent to 19,812.02. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 1.1 % to 4,186.40, while benchmarks in New Zealand, the Philippines and mainland China also rose.

But Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average was lower by midday — down 0.3 % to 8,954.87, after spending the morning in positive territory. A stronger yen, which reduces the value of profits earned overseas, pummeled export shares.

Video game giant Nintendo Co. sank 5 %. Toyota Motor Corp. lost 1.7 %, and consumer electronics maker Panasonic Corp. sank 1.1 %.

Also reversing course at midday was South Korea's Kospi, down by 0.2 % to 1,814.60. Benchmarks in Taiwan and Malaysia were also down.

"It's a very volatile market and everyone is reacting to every bit of news. The guy who is trying to pick the bottom is still very much at risk here," said Tom Kaan of Louis Capital Markets in Hong Kong.

"Into the next one, two or three months, we are not going to see much of a rally," Kaan said. "People will want to take what's on the table and sit on the sidelines."

On Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average shot higher following news that the U.S. job market might have gotten a little better. The Labor Department reported that the number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell below 400,000 last week for the first time since April.

That was enough to catapult Wall Street to one of its biggest points gains of all time. The Dow finished at 11,143.31, up 423.37 points, or about 4 %. It had already fallen 634 points Monday, risen 429 Tuesday and fallen 519 Wednesday. Never before has the Dow had four 400-point swings in a row.

The S&P 500 finished up 4.6 % and the Nasdaq composite index climbed 4.7 %.

"Buyers moved into the market to snap up beaten-down blue chips and a stronger-than-expected unemployment claims figure eased some concern about the slowing economy," said Ben Potter, strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne.

Markets also were soothed after France, Italy, Spain and Belgium jointly banned short-selling on select stocks. The practice, while legitimate, has been blamed for contributing to market volatility.

The European Union's markets supervisor, the ESMA, announced the measure late Thursday following two days of market gyration that saw French banks' market value fall and rise by billions of euros.

The stocks of French banks have been hammered because of concerns they will be hit with massive losses from European sovereign debt they hold. One European nation after another has struggled with debt, with Spain and Italy the latest.

The leaders of Germany and France announced they will meet Tuesday to discuss the financial crisis on the continent.

France is trying to assure financial markets that it will not be downgraded from AAA. Standard & Poor's rating agency stripped the United States of its top-notch AAA credit rating last Friday.

Benchmark oil for September delivery was down 77 cents to $84.95 a barrel at midday Singapore time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude rose $2.83, or 3.4 %, to settle at $85.72 on Thursday.

In London, Brent crude was down 47 cents to $107.55 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

In currencies, the dollar slipped to 76.80 from 76.83 yen late Thursday in New York. The euro dropped to $1.4179 from $1.4216.