Asian markets muted ahead of US jobs report

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets mostly fell Friday amid more evidence the U.S. economy is sputtering as investors turned their focus to a key monthly jobs report.

Oil prices rose slightly to near $101 a barrel. In currencies, the dollar slipped against the euro and the yen.

Many investors were girding for the monthly U.S. employment report, which will be released later Friday and show whether the economy’s soft patch translated into less hiring in May.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index was down 0.3 percent to 9,524.17. Shares of Sony Corp. fell 0.5 percent after the company launched a probe into claims of another massive data breach.

Hackers claimed to have pulled off what they described as an elementary attack to highlight weaknesses in Sony’s security. In Tokyo on Friday, the company said it was looking into the claims but did not elaborate.

Sony Corp. is already is facing questions over why it did not inform consumers more quickly after a cyberattack in April targeted credit card information through its PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment network, compromising more than 100 million user accounts worldwide.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi index was up 0.2 percent to 2,116.98, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was 0.4 percent down at 23,147.61.

On Wall Street on Thursday, weaker than expected sales reports from retailers and another large number of claims for unemployment benefits left stocks with a mixed finish — and added to worries that the U.S. economic recovery was stalling.

First-time applications for unemployment benefits, an indication of how many people are losing their jobs, fell slightly last week to 422,000. But that was still well above the 375,000 level that signals that the economy is adding jobs.

In recent days, economists have sharply reduced their expectations for hiring in May. Nomura Securities now projects a gain of 85,000, down from 175,000 earlier this week. The consulting firm High Frequency Economics cut its estimate to only 50,000, from an earlier target of 200,000.

Those figures are much lower than average job gains of about 230,000 in the past three months, the strongest hiring spree in five years.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.3 percent to close at 12,248.55 on Thursday. The S&P 500 ended down 0.1 percent to 1,312.94. The Nasdaq composite finished with a gain of 0.2 percent at 2,773.31.

Benchmark oil for July delivery was up 28 cents to $100.68 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 11 cents to settle at $100.40 on Thursday.

The euro strengthened slightly to $1.4484 from $1.4482 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar was down to 80.73 yen from 80.84 yen.

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