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Asian stock markets mostly give up gains ahead of US data releases, earnings

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SEOUL, South Korea - Asia's major stock markets abandoned earlier modest gains, trading mostly lower on Thursday ahead of the release of U.S. economic data and corporate earnings reports.

Most of the region's markets finished in negative territory or were little changed with the optimism from China's growth report the previous day proving to be short-lived.

South Korea was the only major market that finished higher. The Kospi in Seoul rose 0.4 per cent to 2,020.90. The market was boosted by expectations that the country's new pro-growth finance minister would introduce measures to ease housing market regulations and encourage domestic spending.

Japan and Australia were little changed. Tokyo's Nikkei 225 closed 0.1 per cent lower at 15,370.26 and Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.1 per cent to 5,522.40.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng dipped 0.1 per cent to 23,497.81 while China Shanghai Composite declined 0.6 per cent to 2,055.59.

For the rest of the week, earnings reports from Google and IBM are key events on the corporate side. Investors cheered Intel's report of a 40-per cent jump in its bottom line, a sign of recovery in PC demand.

The U.S. government is also set to release economic data including unemployment claims and home construction.

The escalation of the U.S. sanctions against Russia appeared to have no immediate impact on Asian markets, although the move hit Russian stocks. The new rounds of U.S. sanctions targeted two major energy firms, a pair of powerful financial institutions, eight weapons firms and four individuals. The U.S. penalties are meant to increase pressure to end the insurgency in eastern Ukraine believed to be supported by Moscow.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude for August delivery was up 32 cents at $101.52 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added $1.24 to settle at $101.20 on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro inched down to $1.3526 from $1.3528. The dollar fell to 101.50 yen from 101.65 yen late Wednesday.

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