Asia stocks mostly gain as weak US retail sales undermine rate hike expectations

Energy Associated Press

Asian stock markets mostly rose Friday after weak U.S. retail sales alleviated jitters about the Federal Reserve's timetable for raising interest rates.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.4 percent to 19,254.25 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.9 percent to 1,987.57. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2 percent to 23,855.29 and China's Shanghai Composite was up 0.4 percent to 3,362.77. But Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 percent to 5,814.50. Stocks in Southeast Asia were lower.

RETAIL SALES: U.S. retail sales fell 0.6 percent last month after a 0.8 percent decline in January, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Despite a big drop in gas prices last year, auto purchases dropped by the most in more than a year and Americans spent less at restaurants and home improvement stores. Many investors think it's only a matter of time before consumers start to spend again, particularly if gas prices stay low and wages start to rise.

FED MOVE: Analysts said the weak U.S. retail sales undermined arguments that the Federal Reserve will bring forward the timing of its first rate hike since the global financial crisis. Global stock markets have dropped in the past week on expectations that the Fed will raise rates soon after unexpectedly strong U.S. employment figures. Fed policymakers are meeting next week. But some analysts don't think the Fed will put great stock in the retail data and expect it to drop the word "patient" in reference to its timetable for raising interest rates.

THE QUOTE: "Last night's U.S. retail sales data has shifted thinking" on the timing of U.S. rate hikes, "adding an element of risk to the early rate hike scenario," Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a commentary.

WALL STREET: A break in the dollar's sharp rally helped push the U.S. stock market to its best day in five weeks. The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 25.71 points, or 1.3 percent, to 2,065.95 on Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial gained 259.83 points, or 1.5 percent, to 17,895.22. The Nasdaq composite climbed 43.55 points, or 0.9 percent, to 4,893.29.

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ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was up 11 cents to $47.16 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.12 to settle at $47.05 on Thursday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used, was up 1 cent to $57.29 in London.

CURRENCIES: The U.S. dollar made gains against other major currencies Friday. The euro slipped to $1.0593 from $1.0628 the previous session. The dollar rose to 121.46 yen from 121.29 yen.