AP Business Writer
BANGKOK (AP) -- A strong U.S. jobs report helped propel Asian stock markets higher on Monday.
The U.S. government reported that the unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent in January and that employers added far more jobs in February than expected, despite higher taxes and cuts in government spending.
The good news overshadowed a credit downgrade slapped on Italy by Fitch Ratings Agency on Friday, which said the country's inconclusive election that left no party in clear control of the government harmed the chances of Italy moving ahead with economic reforms.
"Sentiment was boosted by the better-than-expected US jobs report on Friday, but downgrade of Italy by Fitch over the weekend has casted some doubts ahead," analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in an email commentary.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index marched higher as the yen slid against the dollar. The Nikkei rose 0.7 percent to 12,358.37. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.4 percent to 23,194.38 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.4 percent to 5,145.10. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and New Zealand also rose. Indonesia fell. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed.
Jackson Wong, vice president of Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong, said the Dow's recent record highs have helped investment sentiment, especially among traders looking for bargains, although volumes on the Hang Seng were subdued.
He also said China's pledge last week to increase spending on environmental cleanup and public services boded well for clean energy and medical companies such as Shandong Weigao Group Medical Polymer, which rose 4.3 percent in Shenzhen.
At a budget presentation last week, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao called for spending on social programs to raise the living standards of ordinary Chinese and to promote energy conservation.
Japanese export shares rose on hopes that the weakening yen would help boost their bottom lines. Yamaha Motor Co. jumped 5.3 percent. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. surged 5.9 percent.
On Friday, both the Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose for a sixth straight day on the heels of the positive jobs report. The Dow gained 0.5 percent to 14,397.07. The S&P 500 rose 0.5 percent to 1,551.18. The Nasdaq rose 0.4 percent to 3,244.37.
Benchmark oil for April delivery was down 23 cents to $91.72 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 39 cents to finish at $91.95 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2999 from $1.2981 late Friday in New York. The dollar rose to 96.11 yen from 95.70 yen.
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