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Asian stocks shrug off ECB, await US job report

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HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stocks were mostly indifferent on Friday to the unveiling of a big stimulus package from the European Central Bank as investors awaited the U.S. jobs report for May.

The yen strengthened but reaction from Asian markets to the ECB measures, which included interest rate cuts and a new liquidity program for banks, was more muted than in Europe and on Wall Street, where some indexes reached record highs.

Japan's Nikkei 225 was little changed at 15,077.89 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.2 percent to 23,056.04. In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.7 percent to 2,026.10. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.5 percent to 5,464.20.

Markets in South Korea were closed for a holiday.

"Today, the U.S jobs report will garner most focus while investors continue to digest the ECB decision," strategists at Credit Agricole CIB said in a report.

The U.S. nonfarm payrolls report due later Friday will likely set the tone for markets for the following week as traders assess whether it changes the Federal Reserve's current policy stance of not rushing to raise interest rates.

Analysts forecast that U.S. employers added 220,000 jobs last month after adding 288,000 in April. A fourth straight 200,000-plus monthly job gain would add to evidence that the job market in the world's biggest economy is strengthening.

The monthly U.S. jobs report "at present seems to be one of the few economic releases that is still able to make significant waves in markets," said Michael Every, head of Asia financial markets research at Rabobank.

Markets may cheer even if Friday's number comes in lower than expected, because it would raise the prospect of policymakers delaying their scaling back of monetary stimulus, Every said.

"Equities would no doubt also be happy with the prospect of an even longer period of monetary policy largesse," he said.

On Wall Street, the Dow rose 0.6 percent to close at 16,836.11 and the Standard & Poor's 500 gained 0.7 percent to 1,940.46. Both indexes are at record-high levels. The Nasdaq gained 1.1 percent to 4,296.23.

The euro was edged lower to $1.3657 from $1.3659 in late trading Thursday. The dollar slipped to 102.33 yen from 102.43 in late trading Thursday.

Oil prices edged higher, with benchmark crude for July delivery up 5 cents to $102.53 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 16 cents to settle at $102.48 on Thursday.

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