A strong US jobs report could put fresh pressure on the Federal Reserve to keep hiking interest rates to tame inflation
A strong US jobs report could put fresh pressure on the Federal Reserve to keep hiking interest rates to tame inflation AFP

Asian markets ticked higher in holiday-thinned trade Friday with all eyes on the release of US jobs data later in the day.

The closely watched report comes after a series of releases this week pointed to a softening of the labour market, suggesting Federal Reserve rate hikes over the past year are kicking in.

Analysts said a strong reading could deal a blow to markets as it would put further pressure on the central bank to lift borrowing costs more.

However, a lower-than-expected figure would allow officials to take their foot off the pedal, though it could also add to worries the world's top economy was heading for recession.

After a positive lead from Wall Street in muted trade, Asia's few open markets advanced.

Seoul led gains, piling on more than one percent as heavyweight Samsung rallied after it said it would cut chip production owing to weak demand, lifting hopes for a spike in prices of chips.

Tokyo, Shanghai and Taipei were also up. Oil markets were closed.

Fresh US government unemployment data on Thursday showed there were 228,000 new applications for unemployment aid last week, above analyst expectations.

That followed Wednesday's news that services sector activity grew less than forecast last month, while a separate report pointed to private employers slowing their hiring pace in March.

"All the employment data leading up to the nonfarm payroll report has confirmed a clear trend that a labour market slowdown has begun," said OANDA's Edward Moya.

Expectations for Fed rates have lowered over the past month after banking sector turmoil -- largely blamed on the sharp hikes -- sparked fears of another financial crisis.

While the upheaval has calmed for now, traders remain on edge for any more stresses.

However, a number of Fed officials have said the bank could resume lifting as it battles to bring inflation down.

Among them are St Louis Fed boss James Bullard, who said Thursday: "Financial stress seems to be abated, at least for now.

"And so it's a good moment to continue to fight inflation and try to get on that disinflationary path."

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.2 percent at 27,512.81 (break)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 3,323.17

Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: Closed for a holiday

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0919 from $1.0923 on Thursday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2446 from $1.2441

Euro/pound: DOWN at 87.74 pence at 87.77 pence

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 131.63 yen from 131.80 yen

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.1 percent at $80.70 per barrel (Thursday)

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.2 percent at $85.12 per barrel (Thursday)

New York - Dow: FLAT at 33,485.29 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 1.0 percent at 7,741,56 (close)