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Jul 25, 1:09 AM EDT

Asian stocks bolstered by US economic data


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MUMBAI, India (AP) -- Most major Asian stock markets rose Friday after U.S. unemployment claims fell to an eight-year low and tensions over the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet eased.

Japan's Nikkei 225 gained 0.6 percent to 15,387.28 and South Korea's Kospi was up 0.3 percent to 2,036.20. China's Shanghai Composite added 0.5 percent to 2,115.53.

Other Asian markets were lackluster. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was nearly flat at 24,247.20 and India's Sensex was little changed at 26,265.01 after weeks of hitting new highs. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.2 percent to 5,575.50.

The generally positive sentiment was fueled by favorable U.S. jobs data indicating that the world's largest economy is continuing to recover. On Thursday, U.S. unemployment claims fell to an eight-year low, declining by 19,000 to 284,000.

Jitters over geopolitical tensions also appeared to ease. Investors have been on edge since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed last week over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 people onboard. But fears of aggressive sanctions against Russia, a major energy producer with close economic ties to Europe, have dimmed somewhat, boosting appetite for riskier assets such as stocks.

"There was a general move away from safe haven assets, as headlines over the Ukraine-Russia crisis dropped out of the spotlight and were offset by a stream of strong US corporate earnings," said Ryan Huang, a market strategist at IG in Singapore. "We're also seeing a return of risk appetite reflected by gold prices drifting lower over the past week."

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed up 0.3 percent at 6,821.46 while Germany's DAX rose 0.6 percent to 9,794.06. The CAC-40 in France ended 0.8 percent higher at 4,410.65.

The stronger U.S. jobs report was offset on Wall Street by a Commerce Department reported that new home sales plunged 8.1 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 406,000.

The Dow Jones industrial average edged down 0.02 percent to close at 17,083.80 while the broader S&P 500 index rose 0.05 percent to 1,987.98, which was a record, though barely.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude oil for September delivery was down 14 cents to $101.93 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped $1.05 to $102.07 on Thursday.

The euro inched up to $1.3468 from $1.3465 late Thursday. The dollar was unchanged at 101.77 yen.

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