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Asia stocks higher, Europe mostly flat as investors await Fed chief Yellen's speech

HONG KONG - Most Asian stock markets pushed higher Friday after a record day on Wall Street powered by upbeat data that added to evidence the world's biggest economy is gaining strength. European shares were flat as investors awaited a meeting of central bankers that might shed light on the timing of U.S. interest rate hikes.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany's DAX was little changed at 9,401.76 while Britain's FTSE 100 was flat at 6,777.53. France's CAC 40 dropped 0.2 per cent to 4,282.48. U.S. stocks were poised for slight gains after Thursday's new highs. Dow futures were up 0.1 per cent to 17,030 and broader S&P 500 futures edged up 0.1 per cent to 1,990.60.

YELLEN SPEECH: Attention will turn to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is set to headline an annual conference of central bankers and other policymakers from around the globe. Her speech on labour markets will be parsed by investors looking for any hints on the timing of interest rate hikes. Economists widely expect her to stick to her position that the job market isn't yet strong enough to allow the Fed to begin raising rates, which means markets will stay higher.

DRAGHI'S TURN: The Jackson Hole meeting's other big speech will be given by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. He's expected to give his view on the eurozone economy, which is stagnating even as rates are ultralow and stimulus is plentiful. "Overall, the tale of two speeches today is likely to be that monetary policy stimulus is still here for a while yet in the US, and a very long while in Europe," said Rabobank analyst Michael Every.

ASIA'S DAY: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 erased morning gains to close 0.3 per cent lower at 15,539.19 as the yen strengthened. South Korea's Kospi added 0.6 per cent to 2,056.70. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.5 per cent to 25,112.23 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China gained 0.5 per cent to 2,240.81. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.1 per cent to 5,645.60. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, The Philippines and New Zealand also advanced.

JOBS AND HOMES: U.S. unemployment benefit claims fell by 14,000 last week to 298,000 while existing homes sales rose in July to 5.15 million, the highest annual rate since September, providing further signs of the economy's rebound.

CURRENCIES: The euro strengthened to $1.3292 from $1.3278 in late trading Thursday. The dollar weakened to 103.74 yen from 103.84 yen. A stronger yen makes Japanese stocks pricier for overseas investors and autos and electronics made by the country's exporters costlier in foreign markets.

ENERGY: Benchmark crude oil for October delivery fell 36 cents to $93.59 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 51 cents to settle at $93.96 on Thursday. Brent crude shed 18 cents to $102.45 on the ICE exchange in London.

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