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Shanghai leads gains in Asia as China-US talks resume

SINGAPORE (AP) — Mainland Chinese markets led Asian indexes higher on Friday, as the U.S. and China kicked off a fresh round of trade talks in Beijing. The Shanghai Composite index advanced 2.9 percent to 3,081.11 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 1 percent to 29,055.99. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.6 percent to 2,140.67.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.8 percent to 21,205.81. The country's retail sales fell slightly in February from a month earlier, preliminary data showed. But industrial production rose 1.4 percent after a 3.4 percent decline in January. The unemployment rate beat market expectations, falling to 2.3 percent in February from 2.5 percent in the previous month.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged 0.1 percent higher to 6,180.70. Shares rose in Taiwan and most of Southeast Asia. U.S. negotiators, led by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, attended a working dinner Thursday night with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who is expected to travel to Washington next week.

The three of them posed for a photo at a government guesthouse before negotiations resumed on Friday but did not talk to reporters. "Investors' eyes will be glued to news feeds looking for any more details — rumored or true — emerging from the talks. This could cause some abrupt intra-day volatility across the markets," Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA said in a market commentary.

News about the talks was read as largely positive by the markets. At a speech in Washington on Thursday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the U.S. administration was prepared to continue trade negotiations with China for weeks or even months. This was taken as a sign of commitment to reaching a deal.

On Wall Street, traders shrugged off a discouraging announcement by the Commerce Department. It said U.S. economic growth had slowed sharply in the last three months of 2018 to an annual rate of just 2.2 percent, due to weakness in consumer spending, business investment, government spending and housing.

Most indexes finished higher, as bond yields rose and financial, technology and industrial stocks climbed. The broad S&P 500 index was 0.4 percent higher at 2,815.44. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also gained 0.4 percent to 25,717.46. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.3 percent to 7,669.17 and the Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks picked up 0.8 percent to 1,535.10.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude added 31 cents to $59.61 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 11 cents to settle at $59.30 per barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, edged up 30 cents to $67.40 per barrel. The contract shed 14 cents to $67.10 per barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 110.68 yen from 110.63 yen. The euro rose to $1.1231 from $1.1221.

AP Business Writer Alex Veiga contributed to this report.

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