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World markets bounce on upbeat US economic data

HONG KONG -- World stock markets bounced back Friday as upbeat U.S. economic data helped shake off worries about future increases in U.S. interest rates. Trading in Asia was subdued as Japanese markets were closed for a public holiday.

The Conference Board index of leading indicators, a measure of U.S. economic health, rose in February by the largest amount in three months, suggesting growth should bounce back following a harsh winter. Separately, U.S. jobless benefits rose to near pre-recession levels, suggesting stable job market in the world's largest economy. The Labor Department released figures showing initial claims were lower than expected last week, while the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's March manufacturing activity index beat forecasts.

The numbers helped to perk up stocks after Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen unsettled investors by suggesting earlier this week that U.S. interest rates could rise sooner than markets were anticipating.

Yellen told a news conference that a rate rise could come “around six months” after the bank's stimulus program ends. Economists took that to mean an increase in borrowing costs in the first half of 2015. They had forecast a hike in the latter part of the year.

Investors will be looking for further clues on Fed policy when four of the central bank's officials make separate speeches later Friday.

However, U.S. shares enjoyed a bounce on Thursday from a string of upbeat data. U.S. existing-home sales for February met expectations.

“Overall, we can probably expect a somewhat more nuanced version of the pretty blunt message given by Yellen earlier in the week,” said Michael Every, head of Asian financial market research at Rabobank.

In early European trading, France's CAC 40 rose 0.2 percent to 4,338.14 and Germany's DAX climbed 0.3 percent to 9,321.87. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.3 percent to 6,560.64.

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