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Asian stock markets mostly higher amid hopes of positive US jobs report

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday, mirroring gains on Wall Street in anticipation of a positive U.S. jobs report for January.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index surged 1.6 per cent to 14,382.77 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.9 per cent to 21,614.36. South Korea's Kospi climbed 0.4 per cent to 1,915.16 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.6 per cent to 5,160.10.

China's Shanghai Composite, which reopened after a long Lunar New Year holiday, eased 0.5 per cent to 2,023.09.

Investors are hoping for a robust jobs report after the U.S. economy added a disappointing 74,000 jobs in December. That was the fewest in three years and far below the average of 214,000 added in the previous four months.

The Labor Department earlier this week said fewer people sought unemployment benefits last week while a private survey reported positive data on U.S. hiring. Hopes of a good January report bolstered the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 index, which each closed up 1.2 per cent on Thursday, their largest single-day increase since Dec. 18.

"The payroll number will gather most of the limelight today, especially after December's poor release," Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a commentary.

Evidence of healthy U.S. job growth would suggest that the world's biggest economy is still expanding solidly enough to support global growth amid growing fears of a slowdown.

DBS Vickers in Hong Kong said market consensus was for an 180,000 gain in January but warned it doesn't really show an improvement. At this number, it would leave the 3-month average payrolls at 165,000, which is 17,000 less than six months ago.

"Everyone, including DBS, expects January payrolls will be back to normal. That doesn't mean good. And it doesn't mean that things are getting better," it said in a commentary.

After a rocky start to the week, U.S. stocks roared back on Thursday, giving major stock indexes their biggest gain of the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 188.30 points, or 1.2 per cent, to close at 15,628.53. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 21.79 points, also 1.2 per cent, to 1,773.43. Both indexes were still down about half a per cent for the week following a steep drop on Monday. The Nasdaq composite gained 45 points, or 1.1 per cent, to 4,057.12.

Benchmark U.S. oil for March delivery was down 20 cents to $97.64 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 46 cents to close at $97.84 Thursday.

The euro was unchanged at $1.3591 from late Thursday. The dollar inched down to 102.05 yen from 102.08 yen.

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