BANGKOK – Better-than-expected job growth data from the U.S. late last week helped carry Asian stocks mostly upward on Monday.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 1 percent to 23,383.20, while South Korea's Kospi was 0.4 percent higher at 2,156.69. Industrials companies that benefit from global building and expansion projects helped lead markets higher. Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd., South Korea's leading ship builder, rose 4.2 percent.
But Japan's Nikkei 225 ran into headwinds as the country struggles to rebuild. Down 0.2 percent at 9,838.24, the index has lost 4 percent since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami killed more than 25,000 people, destroyed towns, upended a nuclear power plant and washed away entire industries.
Shares of Chubu Electric Power Co., which operates the Hamaoka nuclear plant along Japan's Pacific coast, plunged 10.6 percent after the government asked the company to shut three reactors while the utility builds a seawall and improves backup systems to protect the reactors from a major earthquake and tsunami.
Other utilities declined, including Kansai Electric Power Co. which fell 2.5 percent, and Tohoku Electric Power Co., which lost 1.1 percent.
The government is evaluating all of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors for quake and tsunami vulnerability after the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was crippled by the March 11 tsunami.
Nuclear energy provides more than one-third of Japan's electricity, and shutting the three reactors would likely worsen power shortages expected this summer.
"The possible suspension of nuclear reactors was a risk factor. Investors are jittery over the impact of the reactor shutdown on Japan's manufacturing base, and more broadly, on the economy," said Yutaka Miura, senior strategist at Mizuho Securities Co. Ltd.
On Wall Street on Friday, better-than-expected job growth helped send shares higher after a four-day slump.
The U.S. Labor Department reported Friday that private employers hired 268,000 people last month, the most since February 2006. Taking into account job cuts of government workers, the economy added a total of 244,000 jobs overall last month, well above the 185,000 jobs that analysts had predicted.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 54.57 points to close at 12,638.74. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.10 to 1,340.20. The Nasdaq composite rose 12.84 to 2,827.56.
The higher jobs number helped stem a sell-off in commodities brought on by fears that the economy was sputtering. Regular investors and speculators had begun to flee commodities in an effort to lock in profits in case the economy slowed even further.
Oil prices rose above $98 a barrel Monday in Asia, bouncing back from last week's plunge. The euro was up at $1.4402 after tumbling to $1.4337 late Friday in New York. The dollar was unchanged against the yen at 80.58.
AP correspondent Shino Yuasa contributed from Tokyo.