Asia stocks meander as US, Japan observe holiday

Asian stock markets saw little movement Friday as the U.S. and Japan observed holidays, although traders kept an eye on Americans hitting the stores for the start of the biggest shopping season of the year.

"It often provides a first glimpse at the strength of consumer spending in holiday season," Michael Carey of Credit Agricole CIB said in a market commentary. "Many industry analysts expect the gains to be centered in the consumer electronics sector."

The day is dubbed "Black Friday" because it falls on the day after Thanksgiving and is when U.S. retailers traditionally turn a profit as millions of Americans rush out to stores in search of gifts for Christmas and other celebrations.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.3 percent to 21,816.44 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent to 1,905.20. Benchmarks in Taiwan, mainland China and the Philippines also rose. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was marginally down at 4,411. Benchmarks in Malaysia and Singapore also fell.

A manufacturing survey that showed China's manufacturing grew for the first time in 13 months in November helped boost global stock markets on Thursday. The gains in Europe came despite a survey showing that the combined economy of the 17 countries that use the euro remains in recession.

Over recent weeks, the focus of attention has been on two main issues - whether the White House can come to a deal with Congress on the budget and whether Greece will get its next batch of bailout cash.

Though a deal on either front has yet to be achieved, investors remain confident that their worst fears - a U.S. recession and a Greek exit from the euro - will be averted.

A U.S. budget deal is expected to be achieved to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts at the start of next year, while Greece is tipped to finally get the approval for the release of the money it needs to avoid bankruptcy at a meeting in Brussels on Monday.

Benchmark oil for January delivery was down 49 cents to $86.89 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 63 cents to finish at $87.38 a barrel on Wednesday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2885 from $1.2825 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 82.32 yen from 82.49 yen.

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