China data, oil tanker attacks, currencies in focus


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Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 101.94 points to close at 26,106.77. The S&P 500 gained 0.4% to end its trading day stateside at 2,891.64, led by the energy sector, while the Nasdaq Composite added 0.6% to close at 7,837.13.

Meanwhile, oil prices spiked on Thursday after two oil tanker ships off the coast of Iran were attacked.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attacks, but they occurred against the backdrop of heightened tension in the Middle East and between the U.S. and Iran. The Iranian leadership has repeatedly threatened to block traffic in the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Strategists at RBC Capital Markets wrote in a note that the attacks “underscore the severity of the security risks stemming from the Iran crisis and the difficulty of achieving a diplomatic off-ramp as long as the crippling US sanctions remain in place.”

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude settled $1.14 higher at $52.22, gaining 2.2% on Thursday. Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil prices, rose $1.34, or 2.2%, to $61.31 per barrel. The bounce in prices came following a steep drop seen on Wednesday when crude futures fell 4% on the ongoing demand fears and another big jump in U.S. crude stockpiles.

In the morning of Asian trading hours on Friday, the international benchmark Brent crude futures contract rose 0.38% to $61.54 per barrel, while U.S. crude futures edged down 0.1% to $52.23 per barrel.

One investor said the “main focus” should be on the general slowdown in growth.

“I think it’s quite clear that we are at the late stage of the current growth cycle and so to that extent, supply shocks aside, I don’t see the oil price spiking substantially higher,” John Woods, Asia Pacific chief investment officer at Credit Suisse, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday.

“Demand for oil in a decelerating growth environment is likely to remain in play and as a consequence, I don’t think we have to worry too much about a higher oil price,” Woods said.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.024 after rising from levels around 96.9 yesterday.

The Japanese yen, often viewed as a safe-haven currency, traded at 108.30 after earlier touching 108.40. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6904, seeing declines for much of the week from earlier levels above $0.700.

— CNBC’s Natasha Turak and Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.