Most Asian stocks rise on improving US housing, jobs data

TOKYO (AP) — Most Asian stock markets climbed Friday as investors took heart from improving U.S. housing and jobs data amid lingering worries over the pace of the global economic recovery.

But gains were modest across the region as investors took a wait-and-see stance ahead of closely-watched U.S. employment data due out Friday. The jobless rate for August is expected to rise to 9.6 percent from 9.5 percent in July, according to Thomson Reuters.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index rose 34.79 points, or 0.4 percent, to 9,097.63 in the morning session. South Korea's Kospi edged up 0.3 percent to 1,780.83. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.2 percent at 4,573.40.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index added 0.2 percent to 20,918.81. Markets in New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan all advanced in early trading.

But the Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.1 percent to 2,652.14. Stocks in Malaysia also declined.

In New York on Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average added 50.63 points, or 0.5 percent, to 10,320.10.

Sentiment on Wall Street turned upbeat after the National Association of Realtors said Thursday that the number of buyers who signed contracts to purchase homes rose 5.2 percent in July after hitting a record low in June.

A fall in new claims for U.S. unemployment aid last week also helped lift sentiment. The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of American people requesting jobless benefits fell by 6,000 the previous week to a seasonally adjusted 472,000.

The four-week average of claims, a less-volatile measure, also fell by 2,500 to 485,500, the first drop after four straight increases. But even with the declines, U.S. jobless claims are still at much higher levels than they would be in a healthy economy.

When economic output is growing rapidly and employers are hiring, such claims generally drop below 400,000.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 84.38 yen in Tokyo Friday from 84.28 yen in New York late Thursday. The euro slipped to $1.2821 from $1.2828.

Benchmark oil for October delivery rose $1.11 to settle at $75.02 a barrel Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices dropped as low as $73.11 earlier in the session.