Asian shares follow Wall Street up

BANGKOK (AP) — Better-than-expected growth in U.S. jobs and a bounce back in commodity prices helped lift Asian stock markets on Monday.

Oil rose to near $99 a barrel, regaining some ground after last week’s plunge. In currencies, the dollar weakened against the euro and the yen.

The U.S. Labor Department reported Friday that private employers hired 268,000 people in April, the most since February 2006. Taking into account job cuts of government workers, the economy added a total of 244,000 jobs overall last month, well above the 185,000 jobs that analysts had predicted and easing worries that the economic recovery was faltering.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.9 percent to 23,373.22, with retail, raw materials and energy companies among the leaders. South Korea’s Kospi was 0.4 percent higher at 2,156.69, lifted by gains in industrial conglomerates. Korean shipbuilders Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. and Samsung Heavy Industries rose 2.2 percent and 1.7 percent respectively.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.4 percent to 4,762.70, with BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s largest mining company, gaining 0.8 percent and rival Rio Tinto Ltd. up 0.7 percent.

Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and New Zealand also rose, while Indonesia’s SE Composite Index dropped.

A rebound in oil and commodities following last week’s slide gave investors the confidence to wade back into shares, said Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong.

“There were oversold sectors — sold off on concerns that overall, the markets would crash. But everything is stabilizing, so investors are buying,” Wong said.

In Hong Kong, Anhui Conch Cement Co. Ltd. rose 2 percent. PetroChina Co. Ltd., the publicly traded unit of China’s biggest oil and gas company, rose 2.3 percent.

But Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average ran into headwinds as the country struggles to rebuild following the March earthquake and tsunami. Down 0.5 percent at 9,838.24, the index has lost 4 percent since the March 11 disasters killed more than 25,000 people, destroyed towns, upended a nuclear power plant and washed away entire industries.

Shares of Chubu Electric Power Co., which operates the Hamaoka nuclear plant along Japan’s Pacific coast, plunged 11.2 percent after the government asked the company to shut three reactors while the utility builds a seawall and improves backup systems to protect the reactors from a major earthquake and tsunami.

The government was evaluating all of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors for quake and tsunami vulnerability because of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where radiation began leaking after the tsunami slammed into the facility.

Nuclear energy provides more than one-third of Japan’s electricity, and shutting the three reactors would likely worsen power shortages expected this summer. Other utilities declined, including Kansai Electric Power Co., by 2.9 percent, and Tohoku Electric Power Co., which lost 2 percent.

“The possible suspension of nuclear reactors was a risk factor. Investors are jittery over the impact of the reactor shutdown on Japan’s manufacturing base, and more broadly, on the economy,” said Yutaka Miura, senior strategist at Mizuho Securities Co. Ltd.

On Wall Street on Friday, better-than-expected job growth helped send shares higher after a four-day slump.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 54.57 points to close at 12,638.74. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 5.10 to 1,340.20. The Nasdaq composite rose 12.84 to 2,827.56.

The higher jobs number helped stem a sell-off in commodities brought on by fears that the world’s biggest economy was sputtering. Regular investors and speculators had begun to flee commodities in an effort to lock in profits in case the economy slowed even further.

Benchmark crude for June delivery was up $1.62 at $98.80 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $2.62 to settle at $97.18 on Friday.

The euro was up at $1.4400 after tumbling to $1.4337 late Friday in New York. The dollar weakened to 80.52 yen from 80.58 yen.

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Associated Press Writer Shino Yuasa contributed from Tokyo.

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