The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Asian stock markets mixed as investors take profits despite signs of US job improvement

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BANGKOK - Asian stock markets were mixed Friday as investors turned cautious and took profits from recent rallies in spite of evidence pointing to an improving U.S. employment picture.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index retreated 0.8 per cent to 13,440.44, slipping from the day before, when the Toyko benchmark closed above 13,500 for the first time since August 2008.

The Nikkei has been riding high on the Bank of Japan's aggressive new approach to jolting the world's third-largest economy out of a prolonged slump.

Evan Lucas of IG Markets in Melbourne said profit-taking was putting pressure on Australia's resource-heavy benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, which rose 0.1 per cent to 5,012.70.

"This will unfortunately dampen what has otherwise being a solid week for the local market, and may see stronger downside pressure in the afternoon as it is the end of the week and investors will close up positions," he said in a commentary.

BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining company, fell 0.7 per cent. Rio Tinto Ltd. dropped 2.7 per cent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.2 per cent to 22,155.17. South Korea's Kospi shed 0.4 per cent to 1,942.45.

Wall Street stocks ended higher after major retailers such as Rite Aid surged after turning in better sales and weekly claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly dropped. Investors were awaiting JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. quarterly results later in the day.

Also due Friday are reports from the U.S. Commerce Department on retail sales data for March and business inventories for February.

Among individual stocks, Woodside Petroleum Ltd. rose 2.8 per cent after the Australian energy company said it has shelved a proposed 45 billion Australian dollar ($47 billion) liquefied natural gas plant in northwestern Australia.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.4 per cent to 14,865.14. The S&P 500 index rose 0.4 per cent to 1,593.37. The Nasdaq composite gained less than 0.1 per cent to 3,300.16.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was down 22 cents to $93.29 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The euro rose to $1.3117 from $1.3112 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 99.44 yen from 99.88 yen.

___

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

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