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Asia stocks rise, Europe flat ahead of Yellen talk

HONG KONG -- European shares were flat as investors awaited a meeting of central bankers that might shed light on the timing of U.S. interest rate hikes.

Germany's DAX was little changed at 9,401.76 while Britain's FTSE 100 was flat at 6,777.53. France's CAC 40 dropped 0.2 percent to 4,282.48. U.S. stocks were poised for slight gains after Thursday's new highs. Dow futures were up 0.1 percent to 17,030 and broader S&P 500 futures edged up 0.1 percent to 1,990.60.

Attention will turn to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is set to headline an annual conference of central bankers and other policymakers from around the globe. Her speech on labor markets will be parsed by investors looking for any hints on the timing of interest rate hikes. Economists widely expect her to stick to her position that the job market isn't yet strong enough to allow the Fed to begin raising rates, which means markets will stay higher.

The Jackson Hole meeting's other big speech will be given by European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. He's expected to give his view on the eurozone economy, which is stagnating even as rates are ultra low and stimulus is plentiful. “Overall, the tale of two speeches today is likely to be that monetary policy stimulus is still here for a while yet in the U.S., and a very long while in Europe,” said Rabobank analyst Michael Every.

U.S. unemployment benefit claims fell by 14,000 last week to 298,000 while existing homes sales rose in July to 5.15 million, the highest annual rate since September, providing further signs of the economy's rebound.

Asian shares mostly rose Friday after the S&P 500 index notched up a record high, as traders awaited a keynote speech by the Federal Reserve chief for clues on the timing of interest rate hikes.

Hong Kong gained 0.47 percent, or 118.13 points, to 25,112.23, Shanghai added 0.46 percent, or 10.35 points, to 2,240.81 and Sydney rose 0.12 percent, or 6.74 points, to 5,645.6. Seoul climbed 0.61 percent, or 12.49 points, to 2,056.70 but Tokyo slipped 0.30 percent, or 47.01 points, to 15,539.19.

The broad-based S&P added 0.29 percent to hit a record 1,992.37, while the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.36 percent to 17,039.49.

The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite rose 0.12 percent to 4,532.10, its highest level in 14 years.

Investors took encouragement from a host of positive data on the U.S. economy — including a pick-up in existing-home sales in July and a downturn in new claims for unemployment insurance.

Gold traded at US$1,281.40 an ounce at 1045 GMT compared to US$1,282.27 an ounce late Thursday.

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