BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets wavered Friday despite better-than-expected U.S. employment data after Japan faced an unwelcome drop in consumer prices.
Wall Street closed higher Thursday after the U.S. government reported the number of Americans seeking jobless benefits dropped last week by 16,000, suggesting that companies are cutting fewer jobs and that the U.S. may be headed for an uptick in job growth. Analysts said that solid U.S. corporate earnings also helped to lift the market mood.
But the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo slipped from a five-year high after Japan's consumer price index fell 0.9 percent in March from a year earlier. The result flies in the face of efforts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office in December vowing to reverse a long bout of deflation, or falling prices, which has crippled economic growth.
The Nikkei, which in the morning hit its highest intraday level in five years at 13,983.87, fell into negative territory before edging up marginally to 13,934.69. Later in the day, attention will turn to a meeting by the Bank of Japan, which will issue an updated inflation outlook.
Also Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department will release economic growth figures for the first three months of 2013.
"A solid GDP figure out of the US should give markets a boost," said Daniel Martin of Capital Economics in Singapore. He said he expected the data to show that the world's No. 1 economy grew at an annual rate of 3.2 percent. That would be a sharp improvement from the anemic 0.4 percent growth rate reported for the final quarter of the year.
Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1 percent to 22,613.83. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped marginally to 5,101.10. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.3 percent at 1,946.98. Benchmarks in Singapore and Taiwan rose while those in mainland China and India fell.
In Britain, meanwhile, growth figures released Thursday came as a surprise relief to analysts who predicted that the U.K. would sink into its third recession in five years. Instead, GDP for the first quarter of 2013 grew 0.3 percent compared with the previous quarter.
Wall Street posted modest gains Wednesday on the heels of a U.S. Labor Department report showing the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the second-fewest in more than five years. The drop suggests that layoffs have declined and that job growth may pick up from last month's sluggish pace.
Among companies reporting earnings, children's clothing maker Carter's, motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson and cruise line Royal Caribbean all reported higher profit and revenue, as did 3M, the maker of Scotch tape and construction equipment.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.2 percent to 14,700.80. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.4 percent to 1,585.16. The Nasdaq composite index gained 0.6 percent, to 3,289.99
Benchmark oil for June delivery was down 55 cents to $93.08 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $2.21 to close at $93.64 on the Nymex on Thursday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3038 from $1.3002 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 98.81 yen from 99.31 yen.