Asian Stocks Finish Higher

Japanese tech stocks trended higher on Friday following gains in U.S. peers overnight

European stock markets were mostly higher on Friday. In London, the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 gained 6.60 points, or 0.13%, to close at 4983.60. The FTSE gave up some of the day's gains to close a touch higher as a further drop in WTI to around $53.60 per barrel put pressure on oil stocks: BP and Shell lost 0.96% and 0.91%, respectively. However, the IMF reportedly warned yesterday that the world faces "a permanent oil shock" and will have to adjust to sustained high prices in the next two decades. The drop in the oil price was good news for British Airways, EasyJet, and Carnival, with the latter also benefiting from a broker upgrade. The banking sector provided support. Boots shrugged off broker target price cuts and gained on a report in the Wall Street Journal that private equity firms are looking to buy out the pharmacy chain.

In Germany, the Dax gained 11.16 points, or 0.25%, to close at 4400.68. Frankfurt's Xetra-Dax ended Friday's session a touch above breakeven as Wall Street edged lower after yesterday's surge. On the macro data front, German exports declined in February after rising the most in two years the month before. Exports adjusted for seasonal changes fell 2.8% after increasing an adjusted 5.8% in January. German CPI rose for a second month in March as record oil prices pushed energy costs higher. Prices gained 0.3% from February, leaving a yearly rate of 1.8%. On the corporate news front, DaimlerChrysler edged lower despite a U.S. district judge clearing Daimler executives of deception over the merger of the German concern with Chrysler. Siemens gained on rumours it may have found a buyer for its loss making mobile phone unit, although most pour cold water on the story. Metro rose after a more optimistic view of the German economy was expressed by CEO Hans-Jochim Koerber. Lufthansa gained altitude on easing oil price pressure.

France's CAC 40 lost 0.08 points, to close at 4124.29, ending Friday's session flat. Having traded for most of the session in the black, shares were coaxed off highs by a decline on Wall Street. U.S. equities edged lower after a string of profit warnings. In addition, the onward decline in oil prices acts as a drag on heavyweight energy plays. WTI for May delivery trades at $53.45 per barrel on NYMEX. At home, the CAC 40 was 12-28 negative, yet the weight of Total on the index offset advances in France Telecom and Vivendi Universal. Thales was among the strongest risers, lifted by reports that Alcatel COO Phillippe Germond would resign. Germond was said not to be in favour of closer links with Thales, while current CEO and chairman Serge Tchuruk wants a link to reinforce the group's position in European defence. Clarins was lifted by consensus-topping fiscal 2004 net profit of 81.9 million euro and a dividend hike of 25% year-over-year.

Asian markets were higher Friday. In Japan, the Nikkei 225 gained 63.76 points, or 0.54%, to close at 11,874.75, with tech stocks trending higher following gains in U.S. peers overnight. News that Japanese machinery orders rose 4.9% in February also boosted sentiment. It followed a 2.2% fall in January and unexpectedly weak economic data in recent weeks. Chip-related stocks rose after the Philadelphia semiconductor index added nearly 2% overnight, with Advantest rising over 1%, while capital goods firms trended up following strong machinery data. Nippon Oil shares were up after it said it bought stakes in gas and oil blocks in the U.S. Gulf from Devon Energy Corp. The purchase will increase Nippon Oil's gas and oil production by 13,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day to 168,000 boe per day. Automakers climbed on easing oil prices, while financials such as Mizuho and UFJ Holdings drew buying interest.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose, inspired by gains in U.S. markets overnight. Huaneng Power reported a 46.9% year-over-year jump in first-quarter 2005 gross generation to 36.1 billion kilowatts, accounting for 23.5% of S&P Equity Research's full-year forecast and in line with our expectation. S&P Equity Research Services is downgrading its recommendation on Mengniu to hold from buy after lowering earnings projections by 9% and 12-month target price to $6.00 (Hong Kong) from $6.50.

Canada's benchmark TSX/S&P lost 0.36 points, or 0.00%, to close at 9,624.99.

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