Asia stocks rise amid hopes for central bank help

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By PAMELA SAMPSON, Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets rose Friday as investors waded back into riskier assets amid hopes that central banks in the U.S. and elsewhere were gearing up for action to help their beleaguered economies.

Jobs data out of the U.S. Thursday led investors to speculate that the U.S. Federal Reserve was preparing to pump more money into the economy to breathe life into its slackening recovery. The Labor Department said unemployment benefit applications rose 6,000 to 386,000 last week, a sign that hiring remains slow.

"A bigger-than-expected result for unemployment claims and a benign inflation reading saw investors speculate the Fed might conduct some easing to spur growth," Stan Shamu of IG Markets in Melbourne said in a market commentary.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.3 percent to 8,595.88. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1.2 percent to 19,034.21 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.4 percent to 4,059.80. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.6 percent to 1,860.55 but benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Indonesia rose.

Analysts have said they expect the Fed might renew its "Operation Twist" program under which it sells shorter-term securities and buys longer-term bonds to keep their rates down. The current program expires at the end of June.

The Fed has also done two rounds of bond purchases to try to lower long-term interest rates and encourage borrowing and spending.

Stocks in the U.S. got a boost late Thursday after a Reuters report said major central banks were preparing for coordinated action if the results of Greek elections on Sunday strain global financial markets.

Investors are on edge ahead of Greece's election because parties opposed to the terms of the country's financial bailout could take control of the government. If that happens and the country leaves the euro, many fear the currency union could be torn apart and European banks could fail.

The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 1.2 percent to close at 12,651.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 1.2 percent to 1,329.10. The Nasdaq composite rose slightly to 2,836.33.

Benchmark oil for July delivery rose 47 cents to $84.38 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.29 cents to finish at $83.91 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2630 from $1.2600 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell slightly to 79.23 yen from 79.27 yen.

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