Asia shares lower ahead of US jobs data

Asian shares mostly slipped in nervous trade on Friday ahead of closely watched US jobs figures later in the day, at the end of a week that has provided mixed signals on the global economy.

Investors also remained cautious before the French presidential election run-off on Sunday, with incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy trailing Francois Hollande, who says he wants to review a recent eurozone fiscal pact.

Sydney shed 0.74 percent, or 33.0 points, to 4,396.0 and Seoul slipped 0.30 percent, or 5.96 points, to 1,989.15

Hong Kong fell 0.77 percent, or 163.53 points, to 21,086.00 but Shanghai rose 0.49 percent, adding 11.93 points to end at 2,452.01.

Tokyo was closed for a public holiday.

The lead from Wall Street was glum as investors there braced themselves for another disappointing non-farm payrolls report Friday after an up-and-down week of economic data.

It began with figures showing the economy grew at a slower pace than forecast in the January-March first quarter while two days later a study revealed a surprise rise in manufacturing activity.

US payrolls firm ADP said just 119,000 private sector jobs were created in April, well off the forecast 170,000, signalling the recent surge in employment could be tailing off.

And while data showed Thursday that jobless claims dipped in the previous week, that was overshadowed by news the all-important services sector had grown slower in April than March.

"As concern over US growth robustness is intensifying, the jobs number will provide further clues for assessing the US outlook and the (Federal Reserve's) stance," said Kintai Cheung, strategist at Credit Agricole, in a note.

Economists expect Friday's jobs report to show the economy created just 162,000 jobs last month, while unemployment stayed at 8.2 percent.

The Dow fell 0.47 percent, the S&P 500 shed 0.77 percent and the Nasdaq was down 1.16 percent.

The dollar bought 80.16 yen, down from 80.18 yen late Thursday in New York, while the euro was at $1.3133 from $1.3152, and 105.29 yen against 105.46 yen.

The European Central Bank on Thursday held interest rates at historic lows but held off making any more decisions on boosting the region's struggling economy, despite figures showing unemployment at a record high of 10.9 percent.

France goes to the polls Sunday to choose between Sarkozy and his Socialist opponent, who has said he would put the country on a more growth-oriented course, instead of austerity.

Hollande's position has raised concerns among France's neighbours that it could hurt the eurozone's second-biggest economy, leading to a fresh crisis.

Oil prices were higher. New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in June, was 93 cents lower at $101.61 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for June was down 87 cents at $115.21 in late afternoon.

Gold was at $1,631.75 an ounce at 0800 GMT, compared with $1,644.00 late Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Taipei finished 0.54 percent, or 41.42 points, higher at 7,700.95.

HTC rose 4.31 percent to Tw$471.5 while TSMC fell 1.46 percent to Tw$87.6.

-- Manila closed flat, edging down 2.86 points to 5,297.55.

Megaworld was up 1.4 percent at 2.17 pesos while Philippine Long Distance Telephone dropped 0.23 percent to 2,566 pesos and Ayala Corp. fell 1.86 percent to 454 pesos.

-- Wellington ended 0.75 percent, or 26.93 points, lower at 3,549.78.

Contact Energy fell 0.62 percent to NZ$4.82, Fletcher Building shed 1.10 percent to NZ$6.28 and Telecom closed 2.33 percent lower at NZ$2.52.


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