Emerging Markets - Most Asian stocks and currencies rise as investors focus on US jobs data

MOST Asian stock markets and currencies rose on Friday, with some eyeing weekly gains, as investors awaited a key US jobs report to help better judge the timing of expected Federal Reserve interest rate cuts.

Seoul's benchmark stock index rose 1.2% to wrap up its best week since Feb. 2.

Among currencies, the South Korean won was the top gainer, rising as much as 0.7% to hit its highest since May 29, while the Philippine peso followed suit with a 0.4% climb.

The European Central Bank kicked off its rate-cutting cycle by slashing interest rates by a quarter point, becoming the second G-7 economy after Canada to loosen policy, which further buoyed investor sentiment.

Investors will now await the US nonfarm payrolls data due later on Friday, which could solidify expectations for a rate cut in September by the world's most influential central bank.

In emerging economies, elections hogged the limelight this week, with investors dumping assets from Mexico, India and South Africa after election results from these countries forced traders to recalibrate bets on fiscal policies.

"The aftermath of the unexpected election results in South Africa, Mexico and India could continue to create idiosyncratic volatility," Barclays analysts said in a client note.

Citi analysts said that though it was too early to call for a synchronised rise in emerging market fiscal risk, they could not discard the possibility of rising fiscal concerns in negative scenarios, potentially catalysed by the acute political changes.

Meanwhile, in a widely anticipated action, the Reserve Bank of India maintained its benchmark interest rate, saying robust economic growth will give it space to focus on bringing down inflation towards its medium-term target of 4%.

Shares in the country were up 1.5%. Stock markets in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Manila rose between 0.2% and 0.4%, with the Singapore benchmark set for a fourth consecutive weekly gain and the Malaysia index on track for its best week since late April. Bangkok stocks traded 0.3% higher.

South-East Asia's second-largest economy reported higher-than-expected inflation for May.

Both Thailand and Taiwan are set to hold central bank meetings next week, where they are largely expected to hold their respective policy rates. In Pakistan, the benchmark stock index dropped 2% as the announcement of the annual budget date raised fears of tax increases. - Reuters

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