Asian Markets Exhibit Mixed Trend

CANBERA (dpa-AFX) - Asian stock markets are exhibiting a mixed trend on Friday in thin trading volume, with several markets remaining shut for the Good Friday holiday. Persistent concerns over the outlook for U.S. interest rates and the decline in crude oil prices weighed on investor sentiment.

The Japanese market is modestly higher amid expectations of further stimulus from the Bank of Japan, after data released earlier in the day showed that Japan's core consumer inflation remained flat in February. Additionally, a weaker yen is boosting exporters' stocks.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 59.07 points or 0.35 percent to 16,951.40, off a high of 17,016.22 earlier.

The data released today showed that the consumer inflation trend fell short of the Bank of Japan's 2 percent inflation target. This is likely to keep the central bank under pressure to boost inflation.

Among the major exporters, Sony is adding 0.8 percent, Toshiba is gaining almost 3 percent and Canon is adding more than 1 percent on the back of a weaker yen.

Trading house Mitsui & Co. is higher by more than 2 percent and peer Mitsubishi Corp. is rising almost 3 percent.

Automaker Toyota is higher by almost 2 percent and Honda is up more than 2 percent. In the banking space, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is adding 0.5 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is up 0.4 percent and refiner JX Holdings is rising 0.7 percent.

On the economic front, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said that overall nationwide consumer prices in Japan gained 0.3 percent on year in February. That was in line with forecasts following the flat reading in January.

Core inflation, which excludes the volatile costs of food, came in flat - again matching forecasts and unchanged from the previous month.

Overall CPI in the Tokyo region, considered a leading indicator for the nationwide trend, dipped 0.1 percent on year in March - missing forecasts for an increase of 0.1 percent, which would have been unchanged.

Tokyo's core inflation slid 0.3 percent on year versus expectations for -0.2 percent and down from -0.1 percent in February.

The Bank of Japan said that producer prices in Japan were up 0.2 percent on year in February. That was in line with expectations following the upwardly revised 0.3 percent gain in January.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded in the lower 113 yen-level on Friday, up from Thursday's close in the upper 112 yen-range in Tokyo.

Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai is marginally higher, while South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan are down with modest losses. Several regional markets are closed in observance of Good Friday, including Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

On Wall Street, stocks regained ground on Thursday after coming under pressure early in the session and closed mixed. Profit taking, along with concerns about the outlook for interest rates, contributed to the initial weakness.

The S&P 500 edged down 0.77 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 2,035.94, while the Dow crept up 13.14 points or 0.1 percent to 17,515.73 and the Nasdaq inched up 4.64 points or 0.1 percent to 4,773.50.

The major European markets also came under pressure on Thursday. The French CAC 40 Index plunged by 2.1 percent, while the German DAX Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index tumbled by 1.7 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.

Crude oil futures were lower Thursday, staying away from a multi-month high set earlier in the week. Crude oil for May delivery ended down $0.33 or 0.8 percent at $39.46 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Copyright RTT News/dpa-AFX

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