Asian stocks higher after EU upgrades growth forecast, US jobs report awaited

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SEOUL, South Korea — Asian stock markets were higher on Friday as investor sentiment was boosted by the European Central Bank's growth forecast upgrade and expectations for a solid increase in U.S. employment.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1 percent to 18,932.50 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.4 percent to 2,006.77. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was little changed at 24,199.29. Stocks in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia rose but Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3 percent to 5,887.50.

US JOBS: The U.S. government issues the February jobs report on Friday. The consensus forecast is that the world's largest economy added 240,000 jobs last month after adding 257,000 jobs in January. Analysts said wage increases will be the most keenly-watched data from the U.S. employment report; the slow pace of wage growth has been a disappointment so far. Stronger wage growth will also likely add to pressure on the Fed to raise borrowing rates this year.

THE QUOTE: As the current climate of low interest rates drives gains in stock markets, "all eyes will be on tonight's U.S. employment data which has the capacity to influence thinking on the timing and pace of Fed plans to lift U.S. rates," Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a commentary. "The ECB's increased 2015 growth forecast indicates some upside potential for markets as Europe benefits from cheaper oil prices and a weaker currency."

EUROPE GROWTH: European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi gave an optimistic view about the single-currency economy with the bank revising up its growth forecast to 1.5 percent this year from 1 percent. While the central bank took no major policy action, the president said the bank's planned 1 trillion euro ($1.1 trillion) stimulus program will begin on Monday.

WALL STREET: U.S. stock markets closed higher with the Standard & Poor's 500 up 0.1 percent to 2,101.04. The Dow Jones industrial average finished 0.2 percent higher at 18,135.72. The Nasdaq composite climbed 0.3 percent to 4,982.81.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 29 cents to $51.05 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 77 cents to close at $50.76 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 47 cents to $61.00 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 119.99 yen from 120.16 yen in the previous session. The euro fell to $1.1027 from $1.1030.

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