Asia shares mostly higher as oil falls back

TOKYO (AP) — Shares were mostly higher in Asia on Friday in a rebound from losses earlier in the week. Japan reported lackluster inflation and household spending data that reinforced expectations the central bank may opt for additional monetary stimulus to perk up sluggish growth.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 index edged 0.1 percent higher to 19,489.96 after slipping in and out of negative territory early in the session. South Korea's Kospi was virtually unchanged at 2,022.75. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was 0.1 percent higher at 24,516.01 and Australia's benchmark S&P ASX/200 gained 0.9 percent to 5,931.00. Shares in Southeast Asia were mixed.

JAPAN DATA: Lackluster inflation, wages and household spending data are adding to expectations that the central bank may resort to further monetary stimulus to spur growth.

WALL STREET WOES: Conflict in the Middle East and the rapid ascent of the U.S. dollar are causing companies to pull back their profit forecasts, putting investors on edge and taking shares lower after they hit record highs earlier in the month. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 40.31 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,678.23, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 4.90 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,056.15.

THE QUOTE: "All eyes turn to the Middle East as conflict in Yemen stands as a stark reminder of the one-sided nature of the geo-political risks to asset markets. Higher oil and gold prices, and lower share markets, are the inevitable result of the return of risk as the potential for armed conflict escalates," Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets said in a commentary Friday.

ENERGY: Oil prices rose sharply as mounting tensions in Yemen raised concerns that supplies of crude from the Persian Gulf region could be disrupted. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states launched strikes on military installations in Yemen in an effort to oust Shiite rebels that forced the country's embattled president to flee. But prices fell back in early Asian trading. U.S. crude slipped 44 cents to $50.99 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained $2.22, or 4.5 percent, to close at $51.43 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 36 cents to $58.83 a barrel after rising $2.71, or 4.8 percent, to $59.19 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro edged higher, to $1.0887 from its close Thursday of $1.0880. The dollar weakened slightly against the yen, to 119.14 yen from 119.19 on Thursday. The U.S. currency has appreciated 8 percent in the past three months, a trend that tends to make U.S.-made goods more expensive abroad.


AP Business writer Ken Sweet in New York contributed to this report.

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