Asia shares except China up, piggybacking on US rally; Thai stocks fall on MERS fears

Energy Associated Press

Asian shares pushed higher Friday following a rally in U.S. markets, but China's benchmark sank again on worries over the potential impact of a flurry of initial public offerings and moves by regulators to curb margin trading. Thai shares fell after authorities confirmed the country's first known case of the deadly MERS virus.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.7 percent to 20,138.88 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 1.1 percent to 26,984.05. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.6 percent to 2,054.40 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 jumped 1.3 percent to 5,595.60. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 2.1 percent to 4,687.32 and the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index lost 2.6 percent to 2,839.29.

CHINA JITTERS: Chinese shares have backed away from recent peaks on worries that a bubble may be building in equity markets. A flurry of IPOs is accentuating concerns over liquidity. Meanwhile, the government's moves to curb risks from margin trading are also weighing on sentiment.

THAILAND SCARE: Public health officials confirmed that dozens of people were under observation after a 75-year-old man who travelled to Bangkok from Oman for treatment of a heart ailment was confirmed to have the MERS virus. The Middle East respiratory syndrome has killed 23 people and sickened more than 160 in South Korea in the biggest outbreak outside the region where it was first identified in 2012. Thailand's SET index slipped 0.2 percent to 1,505.17.

JAPAN POLICY: The Bank of Japan announced as expected no change in its ultra-loose monetary policy, which is meant to push inflation higher and spur growth.

GREEK DRAMA: Investors were monitoring events in Europe, where Greece and its international lenders are deadlocked in bailout talks. Greece needs more loans from its creditors before June 30, when its current bailout program expires and a 1.6 billion euro ($1.8 billion) debt repayment is due. Greece and its creditors blame one another for an impasse in the talks. A default could result in Greece leaving the euro currency bloc, dealing a blow to the project.

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THE QUOTE: "Ongoing Greece drama may continue to weigh on sentiments. Eyes will be on Chinese equities as they may head for their worst weekly decline since early 2009," said Bernard Aw, a market strategist at IG in Singapore.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks netted their biggest gains in a week Thursday after the Federal Reserve hinted it needs to see a stronger economy before raising interest rates. Ultra-low rates over the past six years have helped drive a bull market in stocks that has pushed the market to record levels. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 180.10 points, or 1 percent, to 18,115.84. The Standard & Poor's 500 climbed 20.80 points, or 1 percent, to 2,121.24. The Nasdaq set a new record high, adding 68.07 points, or 1.3 percent, to close at 5,132.95.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened as traders priced in a lower trajectory for Fed rate increases. The U.S. currency was wavering near 123.05 yen from 123.04 yen on Wednesday. The euro was fell to $1.1362 from $1.1371.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 4 cents to $60.49 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 53 cents to close at $60.45 a barrel in New York on Thursday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, gained 2 cents to $64.28.