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Asian Markets End Mixed Ahead of US Job Data

CNBC.com
Friday, 4 Apr 2008 | 5:43 AM ET

Asian markets closed near one-month highs Friday, with investors trading cautiously ahead of U.S. jobs report that is expected to raise fresh concerns that the economy is closer to a recession. Japan finished lower, but South Korea and Australia closed almost unchanged.

Investors are keenly watching the U.S. economy because its slowdown is sapping demand and weakening the dollar, a double headache for exporters dependent on U.S. sales. The weak currency has driven up dollar-denominated commodity prices, adding to the burden on the struggling U.S. economy.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average shed 0.72 percent as investors moved to take profits after three days of rises, with automakers such as Honda Motor hit by brokerage downgrades. Japan's biggest maker of construction-use steel, Tokyo Steel said it had stopped signing export contracts due to the high price of scrap and the strong yen. Its shares fell more than 2 percent and other top steelmakers slid, with Nippon Steel down more than 3 percent, after analysts at investment bank UBS warned of the need for more price hikes to offset big rises in iron ore and coal costs.

Seoul stocks closed slightly higher, trading flat most of the session, after a string of recent gains which have boosted the KOSPI by nearly four percent this week, with investors remaining cautious ahead of key U.S. jobs data due after the
South Korean close.

Australian shares rose 0.2 percent to set a fresh five-week closing high as miners such as Newcrest Mining rose on stronger metals prices, while QBE Insurance Group gained on an upbeat outlook. But gains were limited as wary investors booked profits in financial firms after recent gains, and as caution set in ahead of a key U.S. jobs report due later on Friday that may provide yet more evidence that the U.S. is in recession.

Singapore's Straits Times Index closed 0.5 percent lower, as financials such as United Overseas Bank edged lower.

Markets in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are closed for the Tomb Sweeping holiday. They will reopen on Monday.