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Asian shares end mostly higher

Asian stock markets saw broad gains on Friday, making a strong finish to the week as they took their lead from Wall Street, which shrugged off lacklustre US economic data.

HONG KONG: Asian stock markets saw broad gains on Friday, making a strong finish to the week as they took their lead from Wall Street, which shrugged off lacklustre US economic data.

Global markets have rallied this week, after a tumultuous period caused by the US Federal Reserve's decision to reduce its stimulus programme for a second time in two months.

Sydney closed up 0.91 per cent, or 48.2 points, to 5,356.3 in a rally that came despite mixed earnings results, and Seoul's benchmark index gained 0.69 per cent, or 13.32 points, to 1,940,28.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.60 per cent, or 132.88 points, to 22,298.41 and Shanghai gained 0.83 per cent.

Tokyo stocks bucked the trend, closing down 1.53 per cent, or 221.71 points, to 14,313.03 as the yen strengthened on the back of the disappointing US retail sales and jobless figures which raised more questions about the health of the world's biggest economy.

But Shanghai shares climbed after data showed China's inflation was unchanged in January from a month earlier, despite analysts warning the figure suggested weak growth prospects for the world's second-largest economy.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rose 17.45 points to 2,115.85 on turnover of 97.4 billion yuan (US$16.0 billion). The index rose 3.49 per cent for the week.

The Shenzhen Composite Index, which tracks stocks on China's second exchange, closed up 1.65 per cent, or 18.46 points, at 1,138.39 on turnover of 146.4 billion yuan. It gained 3.61 per cent for the week.

China's inflation rate was steady at 2.5 per cent year-on-year in January, the government said on Friday.

"The figure suggested that inflationary pressure is small, so the market is quite optimistic," Zheshang Securities analyst Zhang Yanbing told AFP.

US stocks defied disappointing retail sales and jobless claims data on Thursday to make modest gains, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average finishing up 63.65 points, or 0.40 per cent, at 16,027.59.

The broad-based S&P 500 tacked on 10.57 points, or 0.58 per cent, to 1,829.83, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index jumped 39.38 points, or 0.94 per cent, to 4,240.67.

US retail sales unexpectedly fell 0.4 per cent in January in the second straight monthly decline, according to the Commerce Department.

The Labor Department reported weekly first-time claims for unemployment insurance rose to 339,000 from 331,000 the previous week, slightly more than expected but in line with the longer-term trend.

Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities, said investors saw the data as "primarily weather-related" after a streak of severe winter weather has depressed economic activity.

In currencies, in late afternoon trade in Tokyo, the greenback fetched 101.90 yen, weakening from 102.15 yen in New York on Thursday afternoon.

The euro bought US$1.3695 and 139.53 yen, from US$1.3678 and 139.74 yen.

Oil prices were mixed in Asia as investors saw the figures as pointing towards weakening demand in the world's top oil consumer.

New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for March delivery, eased 15 cents to US$100.20 in afternoon Asian trade.

Europe's benchmark contract Brent North Sea crude for April was down eight cents at US$108.44 on its first day of trading.

Gold was trading at US$1,309.30 an ounce at 0900 GMT, compared with US$1,290.45 late Thursday -- rising above the US$1,300 mark for the first time since November, in another response to the uninspiring US data.

In other markets, Taipei rose 45.98 points, or 0.54 per cent, to 8,513.68; Wellington added 14.87 points, or 0.31 per cent, to 4,888.40; the Philippine stock market closed 0.20 per cent higher, with the composite index up 11.94 points at 6,113.66; Kuala Lumpur edged up 2.22 points, or 0.12 per cent, to close at 1,819.37; Jakarta was up 0.36 per cent, or 16.38 points, at 4,508.04; and Mumbai rose 0.86 per cent, or 173.47 points, to 20,366.82.

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