Asian shares climb, yen weakens on upbeat US services data

HONG KONG : Asian stocks posted modest gains and the dollar strengthened further against the yen Thursday as a healthy US economic report and rising oil prices overnight bolstered investor optimism.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.6 percent to 16,916.66 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.4 percent to 2,061.72. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 percent to 23,902.69 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.5 percent to 5,481.20. Benchmarks in Singapore and Thailand rose but those in Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines fell. Markets in mainland China were closed for a weeklong holiday.

SERVICE SECTOR: Activity at US service companies expanded in September at the fastest pace in nearly a year, according to a private report. The Institute for Supply Management's services index jumped to 57.1 last month, its highest since October last year, adding to evidence that the world's biggest economy is strengthening and raising expectations the Federal Reserve will soon raise rates from ultralow levels. The services report and a similar manufacturing index earlier this week were both surprisingly strong after weak readings the month before.

MARKET VIEW: The weakness in the August service and factory indexes "does now look to have been only been a temporary blip," said Angus Nicholson of IG Markets in Melbourne. "The path to a December rate rise from the Fed is looking increasingly comfortable."

ENERGY: Oil prices eased after rising to their highest in three months. US benchmark crude oil futures shed 30 cents to $49.53 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.14, or 2.3 percent, to settle at $49.83 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, gained lost 30 cents to $51.56 a barrel in London

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 103.51 yen, its highest in a month, from 103.50 in late trading Thursday, fueled by the Fed rate cut outlook. The euro slipped to $1.1199 from $1.1210.

WALL STREET: Major US benchmarks finished higher. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 0.6 percent to 18,281.03. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 0.4 percent to 2,159.73. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.5 percent to 5,316.02.