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Asia stocks mixed after US joblessness drops

BANGKOK -- Asian stock markets were mixed Friday after U.S. jobless claims plummeted unexpectedly, with analysts saying more data was needed to confirm an actual improvement in the world's No. 1 economy.

Weekly applications for unemployment aid fell to their lowest since February 2008, the U.S. government said Thursday. The positive figures follow a report last week that said the unemployment rate fell in September to 7.8 percent _ below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009.

Still, the job news isn't all that strong. Unemployment is much higher than before the financial crisis. In February 2008, the rate stood at 4.9 percent. Additionally, some unemployed workers have simply given up looking for work, which can make the jobless numbers seem better than they really are.

"I think you need to wait for a few months to see more figures to confirm the jobs recovery in the U.S.," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Holdings in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.5 percent to 21,100.76 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.1 percent to 4,487.20. South Korea's Kospi was flat at 1,932.18.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index was fractionally lower at 8,544.72. Telephone company Softbank plunged 15 percent in Tokyo on news that it is in talks to take a substantial stake in U.S. carrier Sprint Nextel Corp. Fast Retailing fell 9.9 percent after the Uniqlo casual clothing firm reported a first-half operating profit that missed market expectations, Kyodo News reported.

Other economic developments Thursday hurt investment sentiment.

The U.S. Commerce Department reported that foreign demand declined for American-made cars and farm goods. German economic researchers predicted the country's growth would slow, and unemployment in Greece, one of the countries surviving on bailouts, hit a record high of just more than 25 percent.

One big unknown is Spain and whether the government of the recession-mired country will ask for a financial bailout.

Last month, the European Central Bank agreed to buy unlimited amounts of debt by struggling European countries to help lower their borrowing costs. But the governments first need to apply for bailout.

Spain has not applied. Instead, the government has introduced a series of austerity measures in a bid to bring down its deficit and convince investors it can manage its finances without outside help.

"For the day ahead, attention will likely shift to the US earnings reports, with JP Morgan and Wells Fargo in focus while uncertainty about the Spanish bailout will remain as a significant downside risk in the eurozone, leaving sentiment cautious," analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a market commentary.

Macau gambling shares did well following what analysts said was reportedly good revenues following the China's Golden Week holiday. Sands China Ltd. jumped 4.4 percent and Wynn Macau Ltd. rose 1.5 percent.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.1 percent to 13,326.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose marginally to 1,432.84. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.1 percent to 3,049.41.

Benchmark oil for November delivery was up 8 cents to $92.15 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In currency trading, the euro dropped to $1.2929 from $1.2934 late Thursday in New York. The dollar was unchanged at 78.31 yen.

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Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/pamelasampson.