Asian Markets Pause Ahead of US Jobs Data

Asian markets were on shaky ground Friday ahead of U.S. monthly employment data, due out later in the session, that will provide another step in determining whether the recent signs of an improving global economy are real or just wishful thinking.

U.S. stocks had fallen on Thursday ahead of formal results for stress tests for major U.S. lenders. The outcome came after Wall Street's close and provided no real surprises.
However, the removal of the uncertainty boosted U.S. stock futures, while the dollar gained broadly. The concerns over U.S. lenders that for months had dented global stock markets have slowly dissipated over recent weeks following reassurances from regulators that the sector was holding up better than expected and hopeful signs on the global economy. Regulators concluded that major U.S. banks need to raise $74.6 billion to build capital cushions, a smaller amount than what investors had once feared.

The results of bank "stress tests" — which involved more than 150 regulatory officials poring over the books of the 19 largest financial firms — effectively drew a line between healthy and weak, and quantified exactly how much those institutions struggling under the weight of souring loans must raise.

The U.S. dollar fell against the yen but edged up against the euro . Crude oil prices were trading above $56 a barrel, amid hopes for economic recovery, which would boost demand.

Japan's Nikkei 225 Average struck a six-month closing high, rising 0.5 percent as bank stocks surged after stress tests helped remove uncertainty over the health of U.S. lenders. Toyota Motor finished 1.5 percent lower. The automaker reported $6.9 billion in final quarter losses just after the market closed. Toyota also forecast increasing losses this financial year as sales continue to tumble, keeping dozens of its factories underused.

South Korea's KOSPI closed 0.8 percent firmer after volatile trade that moved the main index in and out of positive territory, with caution before U.S. job data keeping investors in check, but financials rose.

Australian stocks finished almost flat, recovering from early lows, to end at a fresh six-month closing high, boosted by banks, but a strong recent rally sparked some profit taking in big winners such as BHP Billiton.

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Hong Kong shares swung back into positive territory to close 1 percent higher. But shares of Hutchison Telecommunications International were down 14.2 percent after its Hong Kong/Macau unit had a weaker-than-expected stock market debut on Friday.

Singapore's Straits Times Index closed 0.2 percent lower.

China's Shanghai Composite Index was up 1.1 percent, with non-ferrous and steel shares weak on profit-taking after an extended rally although oil refiners gained on expectations of a fuel price rise.