Asian Markets Jump as Energy Prices Surge

Asian markets were firmer but off their highs Friday, lifted by energy firms following a jump in oil prices, and as strong U.S. retailer data and jobless claims numbers boosted optimism in the strength of the world's top economy.

Energy firms, such as Japan's Inpex Holdings and Australia's Woodside Petroleum closed sharply higher, up 4 percent and 3.3 percent respectively, after oil prices surged $6 to over $128 a barrel on Thursday in the largest outright gain on record after the U.S. dollar fell on signs the European Central Bank may raise interest rates this year. U.S. crude is currently trading above $128 in the Asian session.

U.S. stocks posted their biggest one day gain in over a month on Thursday, boosted by better-than-expected sales at retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores , and data showed a surprising fall in jobless claims.

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Tokyo's Nikkei 225 Average rose 1.03 percent to a five-month closing high, marking a second straight positive week, as Canon and other exporters gained on a stronger dollar, while higher oil prices boosted energy firms and trading houses. But gains were checked by Japan Tobacco, which tumbled 5.6 percent after media said the
government may lift the tobacco tax to a level that would more than triple the price of a pack of cigarettes, in the face of rising pension and welfare spending.

Australian shares rose 1.1 percent, recouping all the losses in the previous session, led up by gains in heavyweight energy firms such as Santos following the surge in oil prices.

Hong Kong shares rose 0.6 percent on forecast-beating retail sales and jobs data from the United States and as a recovery in oil prices spurred a 3.1 percent rally in offshore oil producer CNOOC. But volumes remained thin as investors were cautious about the health of the global economy, which has been pummeled by the credit crisis and soaring prices
of resources in recent months.

Singapore's Straits Times Index closed flat. Offshore oil drilling rig-makers Keppel Corp and Sembcorp Marine were on the advance after both firms got orders, worth $420 million and $430 million respectively, from Norway's SeaDrill.

China's Shanghai CompositeIndex closed 0.7 percent lower, as oil refiners such as Sinopec declined, as profit-taking set in ahead of a long holiday weekend. Turnover was extremely thin.

South Korean markets are closed today for a holiday. Markets will reopen Monday.