World stocks rise ahead of US jobs data

HONG KONG: Global stock markets rose Friday amid hopes a key U.S. jobs report would show the world's largest economy was on track toward a sustainable rebound.

European stocks opened higher after every major Asian market bounced back from declines the day before. Oil prices extended gains above $80 a barrel, while the dollar strengthened against the yen and weakened versus the euro.

Investors were awaiting the U.S. government's February jobs figures — the monthly employment snapshot that is among the market's most important reports_ for clues to whether the recovery under way in the world's largest economy is sustainable.

Thursday brought cause for optimism the monthly report wouldn't disappoint. The number of people filing jobless claims for the first time fell last week and major retailers posted February sales numbers that topped expectations — suggesting hard-hit Americans whose spending is critical for Asian export companies were healing financially.

In Asia, speculation that Japan was mulling extra measures to shore up its recovery added to the upbeat mood. According to a media report, the Bank of Japan might ease monetary policies to keep money flowing through the economy as soon as this month.

Europe followed on Asia's heels, with Britain's FTSE 100 up 0.5 percent, Germany's DAX 0.3 percent higher and France's CAC 40 climbing 0.4 percent. News that Greece sold billions in bonds to pay for its debt helped allay worries about its crumbling finances for now. Futures pointed to gains Friday on Wall Street with S&P futures up 2.1 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,124.40.

In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average jumped 223.24 points, or 2.2 percent, to 10,368.96.

"Investors welcomed the (Bank of Japan) report," said Kazuhiro Takahashi, equity strategist at Daiwa SMBC Securities Co. Ltd. "Investors were speculating that further easing could help the yen weaken."

A soft yen helps Japanese exporters by boosting the value of their repatriated profits and making their goods more competitively priced abroad.

In greater China, Hong Kong's market rose 1 percent to 20,787.97 and Shanghai's market gained 0.3 percent to 3,031.06 as investors focused on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's annual policy address.

Wen promised strong growth this year, 8 percent, and said the government will combat inflation and risks to banks to maintain the economy's recovery. While the annual hike in spending increase would be halved, the government would ensure stimulus and easy credit continue because the basis of renewed global growth is still weak, he said.

Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi was up 1 percent at 1,634.57. Markets in India, Taiwan and Singapore gained, as well.

Friday's U.S. jobs report is likely to show unemployment continued to rise, to 9.8 percent in February from 9.7 percent from the month before, as employers cut 50,000 jobs. But economists say there could be a silver lining if, as expected, both average hourly earnings and average hours worked climbed last month. Such increases often precede more hiring.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 89.27 yen from 89.13 yen. The euro rose to $1.3595 from $1.3580.

Oil prices rose in Asia with benchmark crude for April delivery up 51 cents at $80.72.

In the U.S. Thursday, the Dow rose 47.38, or 0.5 percent, to 10,444.14, its highest close since Jan. 20. The Dow is now up 16 points, or 0.2 percent, for 2010.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4.18, or 0.4 percent, to 1,122.97. It is up 0.7 percent for the year.