The global forecast for the Asian markets is mixed with a tough of upside ahead of key payroll data from the United States later in the day. Comments from the Federal Reserve add to the desire to remain on the sidelines. Airlines and gold stocks may move higher, along with oil and networking companies. The European markets finished higher and the U.S. bourses were mixed but little changed, and the Asian markets are expected to split the difference.
The KLCI finished sharply higher on Thursday following gains from the financial shares, industrial issues and plantation stocks.
For the day, the index jumped 15.80 points or 1.03 percent to finish at 1,537.09 after trading between 1,526.57 and 1,540.89. Volume was 2.58 billion shares worth 2.87 billion ringgit. There were 643 gainers and 286 decliners, with 298 stocks finishing unchanged.
Among the gainers, Hartalega Holdings, United Plantations, Petronas Dagangan, Maybank, Sime Darby, Petronas Chemicals and CIMB Group all finished higher.
The lead from Wall Street offers little guidance as stocks were lackluster on Thursday ahead of Friday's closely watched monthly jobs report, eventually ending the day mixed. Economists are expecting employment to increase by about 150,000 jobs in January, while the unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 8.5 percent.
As a result, traders largely shrugged off the Labor Department's weekly jobless claims report, which showed that claims fell by more than anticipated in the week ended January 28. Jobless claims dipped to 367,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 379,000. Economists had expected claims to edge down to 370,000 from the 377,000 originally reported for the previous week.
A separate report from the Labor Department showed a slightly smaller than expected increase in labor productivity in the fourth quarter. At the same time, the report showed a bigger than expected increase in unit labor costs.
In addition, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Budget Committee that the U.S. economy is on the mend but is not yet ready to stand on its own two feet without help from the Fed.
"Over the past two and a half years, the U.S. economy has been gradually recovering from the recent deep recession," Bernanke said in prepared testimony. "While conditions have certainly improved over this period, the pace of the recovery has been frustratingly slow, particularly from the perspective of the millions of workers who remain unemployed or underemployed."
Among individual stocks, shares of Qualcomm (QCOM) rose by 2 percent after the wireless chip maker reported better than expected first quarter results. The company also issued healthy second quarter and full year guidance. Allstate (ALL) also turned in a strong performance after the insurance company reported fourth quarter operating income that exceeded estimates, as catastrophe losses declined.
The major averages closed on opposite sides of the unchanged line, with the Dow posting a modest loss. While the Dow edged down 11.05 points or 0.1 percent to 12,705.41, the NASDAQ rose 11.41 points or 0.4 percent to 2,859.68 and the S&P 500 inched up 1.45 points or 0.1 percent to 1,325.54. Despite the mixed performance on the day, the tech-heavy NASDAQ extended a recent upward
move, reaching its best closing level in almost seven months.