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Asian stocks mixed after weaker US growth figure, Fed pledge to keep rates low

BEIJING, China - Asian stocks were mixed Thursday with most markets closed for a holiday after U.S. economic growth slowed and the Federal Reserve promised to keep interest rates low.

Oil edged down to stay below $99 per barrel on expectation of weaker U.S. demand and reports of higher supplies.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index gained 0.4 per cent to 14,360.27 points and Malaysia added 0.7 per cent to 1,871.52. Sydney's S&P ASX 200 shed 0.4 per cent to 5,467.10 while New Zealand was off 0.4 per cent at 5,557.59.

Markets in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan were closed for the labour day holiday.

Investors were encouraged by the Fed's pledge Wednesday following a policy meeting to keep short-term interest rates low to support the economy "for a considerable time" after its bond purchases end, likely late this year.

"The accommodative stance is certainly going to maintain the current upswings in consumer sentiment and spending," said Evan Lucas of IG Markets in a report.

In China, a survey of manufacturers by the state-sanctioned Federation of Logistics and Purchasing showed April activity growth was weak, adding to signs the world's second-largest economy is cooling further after growth dipped to 7.4 per cent in the three months ending in March.

In a sign of confidence in the U.S. economy, the Fed said it would go ahead with plans to reduce bond purchases by $10 billion this month. Such purchases were aimed at encouraging investment by pushing down long-term interest rates and have helped to buoy stock markets.

U.S. government data showed economic growth slowed to a 0.1 per cent annualized rate in the January-March period from 2.6 per cent in the previous quarter.

That was the weakest growth since late 2012 and was largely put down to the winter storms that hit North America during the period. But it disappointed economists who expected a more modest slowdown to 1.1 per cent.

A hiring survey by the ADP payrolls processor said the U.S. economy added 220,000 jobs in April, up from 209,000 in March and the most since November. Official government figures are due Friday.

On Thursday, Britain's FTSE 100 and Germany's DAX each added 0.2 per cent while France's CAC-40 dropped 0.2 per cent.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average and the broader Standard & Poor's 500 both edged up 0.1 per cent.

Crude for June delivery shed another 7 cents to $99.67 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

On Wednesday, the contract fell $1.54 per barrel to $99.74 after U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed on Russian officials, businesspeople and companies over the Ukraine crisis were less severe than traders feared. Markets had been on edge that sanctions might disrupt Russian oil supplies.

In currency markets, the dollar was unchanged at 102.25 yen and the euro was flat at $1.387.

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