Asian markets subdued on US mixed signals

A strengthening dollar and zig-zagging stocks on Wall Street kept Asian markets in check on Friday.

Oil prices dipped, remaining below $99, while the dollar strengthened against the yen and the euro.

Japan's Nikkei 225 inched down 0.2 percent to 9,693.26 as its currency nudged up against the dollar, threatening the profits of its powerhouse export sector. Toshiba Corp. lost 1.3 percent, Sony Corp. was down 1.2 percent, and Panasonic Corp. slipped 0.8 percent.

South Korea's Kospi lost 0.5 percent to 2,111.32 as the country's central bank left its key interest rate unchanged for a second straight month. Inflation eased in April to 4.2 percent from its highest level in more than two years but still remained above the bank's comfort zone for price increases for the fourth straight month.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was 0.4 percent down to 22,977.43. Energy companies was lower since a drop in oil prices translates into declining revenues. PetroChina Co. Ltd., the publicly traded unit of China's biggest oil and gas company, slumped 1.3 percent; China National Offshore Oil Corp., or CNOOC, lost 0.9 percent.

But airlines, whose profit margins are sensitive to fuel prices, went higher as the price of crude dampened.

China Southern Airlines Co. Ltd. jumped 3.6 percent; China Eastern Airlines Corp. Ltd. rose 1.7 percent, and Australia's Qantas Airways Ltd. was 0.9 percent higher.

On Wall Street on Thursday, a small recovery in commodities and a rally in companies that make consumer staples like toilet paper and pasta helped reverse a decline to end the day with modest gains.

Consumer staples and health care led the market due in part to concerns that high gas prices will erode consumer spending and cut into corporate earnings. Companies that sell everyday items or provide health-related products and services are less dependent on economic growth for their profits since people typically spend money on such items even if they cut back elsewhere.

On the down side, the Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to 434,000, slightly less than what economists expected. That report contributed to early losses in the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average rebounded after a slow start, gaining 0.5 percent to close at 12,695.92. The S&P 500 added 0.5 percent to 1,348.65. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.6 percent to 2,863.04.

Benchmark crude for June delivery dropped 46 cents to $98.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 76 cents to settle at $98.97 per barrel on the Nmyex.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 80.95 yen from 80.91 Japanese yen in New York on Thursday. The euro weakened to $1.4204 from $1.4231 late Thursday.