U.S. markets closed higher on Thursday despite weaker-than-expected Retail Sales data. Basic Materials, Technology and the Energy Sector drove indices higher. The U.S. retail sales dropped 0.8% in January, missing expectations for a 0.3% decrease, after a 0.9% decline in December. Retail sales excluding automobiles fell 0.9% in January, missing forecasts for a 0.4% decrease, after a 0.9% drop in December. December's figure was revised up from a 1.0% decline.
The number of initial jobless claims in the week ending February 07 in the U.S. rose by 25,000 to 304,000 from 279,000 in the previous week. The previous week's figure was revised down from 278,000. Analysts had expected the number of initial jobless claims to decrease to 278,000.
The U.S. business inventories rose by 0.1% in December, after a 0.2% gain in November. Analysts had expected a 0.2% increase.
Markets were supported by signs of easing tension between Greece and its euro-area creditors and the Ukraine resolution. The ECB raised the Emergency Liquidity Assistance cap for Greek banks by 5 billion euro.
The DOW JONES index added 0.62% closing at 17,972.38 points. The S&P 500 closed higher with a final quote of 2,088.48, 0.96%, 3 points from a record reached Dec. 29.
Chinese shares added gains on Friday in the wake of the Chinese New Year where volumes are expected to remain low. Speculations on further monetary easing supported the markets. Hong Kong's Hang Seng is trading 0.93% at 24,648.29 points. China's Shanghai Composite closed at 3,204.61 points 0.98%. The index has gained more than 50% over the past year boosted by monetary easing and the creation of an exchange link with Hong Kong.
Japanese markets retreated from yesterday's 7-1/2 -year highs. The Nikkei declined, closing -0.37% with a final quote of 17,913.36 points. Speculations that the Bank of Japan will not expand monetary easing weighed. Now all eyes are on Governor Kuroda and his comments on that matter next week.