Asian markets rally; Tokyo stocks up as yen falls

By YOUKYUNG LEEMarketsAssociated Press

Asian stock markets rallied Friday as investor sentiment was boosted by signs of continued improvement in the U.S. job market. Tokyo stocks jumped to the highest level in nearly two years.

KEEPING SCORE: Nikkei 225 jumped 1.4 percent to 20,139.31 as the yen weakened against the dollar. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.9 percent to 2,363.07. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 0.2 percent to 25,861.46. Australia's S&P/ASX advanced 0.9 percent to 5,789.10 but Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.5 percent to 3,088.04. Stocks in Taiwan, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries were higher.

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US ECONOMY: On Thursday, U.S. payroll processor ADP said it found in a private survey of companies that 253,000 jobs were added in May. The result was significantly higher than expected and lifted investor sentiment before the U.S. government releases more comprehensive jobs report later on Friday. In addition to how many jobs U.S. added last month, analysts are also keen to see how much average hourly earnings grew.

KOREA GROWTH: Bank of Korea said its updated reading of the South Korean economy showed that Asia's fourth-largest economy expanded 1.1 percent during the January-March period on a quarterly basis, revised up from 0.9 percent released in April. That was the strongest rate in six quarters and solidified expectation that the central bank would revise up its annual growth outlook next month. Exports and the construction sector led the recovery.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "U.S. data has given the equity bulls some inspiration," Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia, said in a daily commentary. He added "it gives us hope at least that tonight's non-farm payrolls will be close enough to the consensus print."

WALL STREET: U.S. markets closed at record-high levels on Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index ended at 2,430.06, up 0.8 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.6 percent to 21,144.18, and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.8 percent to 6,246.83.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose fell 26 cents at 48.10 per barrel in electronic trading on New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 4 cents to settle at $48.36 per barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 23 cents to settle at $50.40 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 111.64 yen from 111.35 yen while the euro strengthened slightly to $1.1218 from $1.1216.