Oil prices stabilize in Asian trading; stock indexes slide

By KELVIN CHANMarketsAssociated Press

Oil prices stabilized in Asian trading Friday after hitting a five-month low while regional stock benchmarks headed lower in holiday-thinned trading.

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KEEPING SCORE: Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng index lost 0.8 percent to 24,500.70 while the Shanghai Composite index in mainland China shed 0.6 percent to 3,107.25. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.5 percent to 5,846.80. Markets in Japan and South Korea were closed for holidays.

CRUDE CONCERNS: Oil prices found their footing after tumbling during U.S. trading on uncertainty over whether OPEC will extend an agreement to cut production to shore up prices. Member nations of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are due to discuss the deal later this month. U.S. benchmark crude futures rose 20 cents to $45.61 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slumped to its lowest level since late November, losing $2.30, or nearly 5 percent, to settle at $45.52 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, the standard for international oils, rose 19 cents to $48.47 in London after a similar decline.

QUOTEWORTHY: "The collapse in oil prices saw (benchmark West Texas Intermediate) plunge as the market continues to probe for a bottom amid oversupply concerns," said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA. Oil is now near the psychological $45 level "which, if broken could send the oil pits into complete disarray and will likely have far-reaching consequences for both equity and currency markets near term," he added.

ENERGY SHARES: Oil company stocks led declines. PetroChina, China's biggest oil producer, lost 2.6 percent and Sinopec, the country's largest refiner, fell 1.5 percent. Australia's Woodside Petroleum slid 2 percent.

JOB REPORT: Investors' attention now turns to U.S. jobs data due after Asian markets close, when the Labor Department releases nonfarm payrolls for April. Economists forecast that job-creating bounced back last month after a disappointing March, in the latest sign of U.S. economic strength supporting the Fed's plans for more interest rate increases this year.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks were little changed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.1 percent to close at 2,389.52. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 6.43 points to 20,951.47. The Nasdaq composite added 2.79 points to 6,075.34.

CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 112.59 yen from 112.46 yen. The euro slipped to $1.0975 from $1.0984.