Currency trader holds his head near the screen showing Korea Composite Stock Price Index (Kospi) at the foreign exchange dealing room of the Korea Exchange Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, May 18, 2012. South Korea's Kospi lost 3.4 percent or 62.78 points to close at 1,782.46 Friday. Asian stocks dived Friday after discouraging U.S. economic reports unnerved investors already worried about the stability of the 17-country euro currency union. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
BANGKOK - Asian stocks eked out gains Thursday as traders hunted for bargains after sharp selling in recent days, but markets in Europe fell amid intensifying fears of a messy exit by Greece from the euro common currency.
Greece called a new round of elections for June 17 after coalition talks to form a government fell apart. The president said depositors were pulling hundreds of millions of euros out of banks, weakening the country's strained financial system.
The developments fueled fears that Greece would exit the euro currency and shake global markets. In elections earlier this month, Greek voters punished parties that supported tough austerity measures needed to secure international bailout money.
But analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said the scheduling of new Greek elections suggested "a reduction in near-term uncertainties" that could lead to some relief for volatile markets.
Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.4 per cent to 5,380.72 in early trading. Germany's DAX fell 0.2 per cent to 6,373.01 and France's CAC-40 lost 0.2 per cent to 3,042.45.
U.S. stocks were set for a moderately higher opening, with Dow Jones industrial futures up 0.3 per cent at 12,610. S&P 500 futures rose 0.4 per cent to 1,327.
In Asia, stock markets enjoyed a slight rebound as investors went bargain-hunting, analysts said.
Japan's Nikkei 225 climbed 0.9 per cent to close at 8,876.59 after the country posted better-than-expected growth figures for the first quarter. South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 per cent to 1,845.24. Benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and the Philippines also rose.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.2 per cent to 4,157.40, dragged down by financial stocks. Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed 0.3 per cent down at 19,200.93.
Mainland Chinese shares bounced back from early losses, buoyed by calls from the country's central bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, for market reforms.
The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rose 1.4 per cent to 2,378.89. The Shenzhen Composite Index also gained 1.4 per cent to 954.95. Shares in brokerages, financial and trading-related companies led the gains.
Positive news on the U.S. economy on Wednesday underpinned sentiment in Asia. Construction of homes in April rose 2.6 per cent from March, and U.S. factory production increased 0.6 per cent in April, helped by a gain in auto production.
Some Japanese stocks saw big gains amid news that the country's economy grew at an annualized 4.1 per cent for the January-March quarter thanks to a rebound in consumer spending.
Sharp Corp. jumped 5.7 per cent and Mazda Motor Corp. added 3.8 per cent. Steel company JFE Holdings shot up 5.5 per cent.
Benchmark oil for June delivery was up 52 cents to $93.33 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the contract fell by $1.17 to finish at a seven-month low of $92.81 per barrel in New York.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2715 from $1.2725 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar rose to 80.35 yen from 80.29 yen.
AP researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.
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