Weak US data run gives stocks a lift

Japan's Nikkei underperforms in slipstream of losses elsewhere; US economy in focus later

Associated Press
Asian stock markets choppy after US lukewarm data
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Passers-by watch an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Thursday, May 30, 2013. Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed down 737.43 points, or 5.15 percent, at 13,589.03 on Thursday as concerns that the Federal Reserve might start scaling back its stimulus program due to improvement in the U.S. economy sent Asian stock markets lower. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

LONDON (AP) -- Stocks posted some modest gains Thursday after a run of unspectacular U.S. economic data eased concerns that the Federal Reserve will start to reduce the amount of financial assets it buys each month.

The advances on Wall Street and European exchanges came after figures showed U.S. economic growth in the first quarter downgraded to an annualized rate of 2.4 percent from 2.5 percent, weekly jobless claims surprisingly up 10,000 and pending home sales rising by far less than anticipated in April.

Developments surrounding the U.S. economy are being closely monitored in financial markets. Investors are trying to work out when Fed policymakers will start to withdraw some of the stimulus programs they have backed over the past few years in an attempt to lower long-term interest rates and shore up the U.S. economic recovery.

New money generated by the programs has found its way into financial markets and given assets, such as stocks, a big push. A slowing-down in that process — what is known as tapering — has raised concerns among some investors, even though it would herald that the U.S. economy is returning to where it was before the financial crisis of 2008.

Thursday's figures weren't a disaster by any means but they did indicate that the U.S. economy is still not operating at the necessary tick for a change in Fed policy — in the current trading environment, that often means gains in stock markets and weakness in the dollar.

"Today's U.S. data is mildly soft in tone," said Nick Bennenbroek, an analyst at Wells Fargo Bank.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.3 percent at 6,649 while Germany's DAX rose 0.8 percent at 8,403. The CAC-40 in France was 0.6 percent at 3,998.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.3 percent at 15,350 while the broader S&P 500 index rose 0.4 percent to 1,655.

The dollar faltered on the data too — the euro was up 0.9 percent at $1.3091 while the dollar was down 0.2 percent at 100.87 yen.

The solid tone in European and U.S. stock markets contrasts sharply with developments in Tokyo earlier, where the Nikkei index tumbled 5.2 percent to close at 13,589.03, as investors responded to the previous day's retreat elsewhere in the world.

Though the Nikkei remains around 30 percent higher for the year, it's down 13 percent from its peak on May 22. Japanese investors appear to be increasingly doubtful over whether the government's economic strategy can extricate the country from years of economic malaise despite a previous bout of euphoria.

The main reason why the Nikkei is still up strongly this year is the optimism that was initially generated by the Bank of Japan's aggressive new monetary stimulus. The prospect of more yen in circulation weighed on the currency, which has fallen sharply to the relief of the country's exporters.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.3 percent to 22,484.31 while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.9 percent to 4,930.70. China's Shanghai index fell 0.3 percent to 2,317.75.

Oil prices drifted lower, with the benchmark New York rate down 75 cents at $92.38 a barrel.

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