Asia stocks mixed after US retail sales gain

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By PAMELA SAMPSON, Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed Tuesday in a lukewarm reaction to data showing that U.S. consumers revved up their retail spending last month.

The Commerce Department in Washington said retail sales increased 0.1 percent in April from March, an improvement from March's 0.5 percent decline. Economists had forecast that sales declined by 0.3 percent in April.

The uptick in spending on items such as clothing, cars and electronics is likely to boost the country's growth figures for the current quarter. Still, analysts cautioned that expectations of a drop in retail sales may simply have been too pessimistic.

"April retail sales surprised a bit on the upside," analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a market commentary. However, they added that the better-than-expected result still did not portray a picture of health, nor does it "alter the picture of a consumer that remains mired in sub-par spending."

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.1 percent to 14,761.36. South Korea's Kospi added 0.9 percent to 1,964.85. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.1 percent to 5,216.70. Benchmarks in Singapore and Taiwan also gained.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index shed 0.4 percent at 22,899.95. Benchmarks in New Zealand and mainland China also fell.

Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong, said some markets were being pushed lower by profit-taking following recent rallies. Traders were also eyeing markets with caution amid speculation that better economic data out of the U.S. might lead the Federal Reserve to rethink its super-easy monetary policy.

The Fed has been buying $85 billion a month in bonds to keep long-term borrowing costs down and encourage lending and spending. But some Fed officials are believed to support a reduction in bond purchases if the economy continues to improve.

That could boost the dollar and pull investment funds from Asia to the U.S., Yip said. "There is some talk that maybe there will be some new move by the Federal Reserve."

The state of the world's No. 1 economy should become clearer later this week with the release of industrial production data for April on Wednesday and weekly jobless claims Thursday.

Meanwhile, Germany's ZEW institute will release its monthly investor confidence index for Europe's biggest economy later Tuesday.

Among individual stocks, Panasonic Corp. jumped 5.1 percent a day after the company announced the development of a solar cell lantern that is powered by electricity stored during the day, Kyodo News reported.

Wall Street took a breather Monday from last week's record-breaking rally. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.2 percent, to close at 15,091.68. The Standard & Poor's 500 was little changed at 1,633.77. The Nasdaq composite index rose less than 0.1 percent to 3,438.79.

Benchmark oil for June delivery was up 21 cents to $95.38 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 87 cents to close at $95.17 a barrel on the Nymex on Monday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3006 from $1.2970 late Monday in New York. The dollar fell to 101.47 yen from 101.93 yen.

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