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Asian stocks mixed as debt warnings, data weighed
Asian stocks mixed as stronger US economic data weighed against second debt warning
By The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) ' Asian stocks markets were mixed Friday as investors weighed positive economic indicators against a new warning on U.S. debt.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average gained 0.4 percent to close at 9,974.47, recovering slight losses with brokers largely on the sidelines. July 18 is a national holiday in Japan that celebrates the ocean.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.5 percent to 21,824.01 and South Korea's Kospi rose 0.7 percent to 2,145.20. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3 percent to 4,473.50.

Amid concerns about the U.S. government credit rating, investors had positive news about the American economy to counter that.

U.S. retail sales unexpectedly rose in June while weekly jobless claims dropped by a surprisingly large 22,000 to 405,000, helping European markets trim losses overnight.

Koji Takeuchi, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute in Tokyo, said investors are watching for signs of a recovery in the U.S. economy and trying to gauge if the government debt crisis in Europe will worsen.

"Basically, a wait-and-see attitude is prevailing," he said.

Meanwhile, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's said on Thursday that there is a 50 percent chance it will downgrade the U.S. government's credit rating within three months because of the congressional impasse over approving an increase in the debt ceiling. The rating agency said it is placing the United States on a credit watch.

The S&P action marked the second credit warning in the past two days. On Wednesday, Moody's Investors Service said it is reviewing the government's triple-A bond rating.

Todd Martin, Asia equity strategist for Societe Generale in Hong Kong, said markets were looking at a range of factors, including pluses such as positive U.S. earnings reports and China growth data along with negatives, putting Asian markets on what he called "pause."

"First you had Moody's. Now you have S&P. That has the markets spooked," he said. "There are more countering forces that have caused global equity markets to move sideways. I think it is more of a consolidation."

In the U.S., remarks by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that dimmed hopes for a third round of bond-buying dragged stocks lower. In a second day of testimony, Bernanke told lawmakers the Fed expects the economy to improve. He said the central bank would only step in with more economic stimulus if there is a significant downturn in the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 54.49, or 0.4 percent, to 12,437.12 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 8.85 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,308.87. The Nasdaq composite fell 34.25, or 1.2 percent, to 2,762.67.

Investors are also keeping a close watch on developments in Europe amid worries Italy and Spain would be dragged into the debt crisis that has already seen Greece, Ireland and Portugal bailed out.

Oil prices rose to near $96 a barrel as a weaker U.S. dollar made commodities such as crude cheaper for investors with other currencies.

Benchmark oil for August delivery was up 12 cents to $95.81 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude fell $2.36 to settle at $95.69 on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro was down 0.2 percent to $1.4128. The dollar inched up 0.1 percent to 79.25 yen.

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