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Stock market today: Asian markets mixed as US government debt talks push toward brink of default

Asian markets were mixed Friday as a deadline loomed for Congress to reach a deal on the U.S. government debt or face a potentially calamitous default.

Tokyo and Seoul rose while Shanghai and Sydney fell. Hong Kong was closed for a holiday. U.S. futures slipped and oil prices also declined.

Talks on raising the U.S. debt ceiling continued Thursday while lawmakers left town for the Memorial Day holiday weekend just days before the U.S. could face an unprecedented default.

Republican are demanding spending cuts the Democrats oppose as their price for raising the legal debt limit. At the Capitol, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said “every hour matters” in talks with President Joe Biden’s team as they try to work out a budget agreement.

But markets are whirling from various factors, and on Thursday, enthusiasm over artificial intelligence pushed share prices higher despite the potential crisis brewing in Washington.

Tech company shares rose in Asia, too, where Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 gained 0.7% to 31,019.61. In Seoul, the Kospi climbed 0.2% to 2,559.91, helped by a 2% rise in the share price for Samsung Electronics, South Korea’s biggest company.

The Shanghai Composite index edged 0.1% lower to 3,196.89, while the S&P/ASX 200 in Sydney added less than 0.1%, to 7,142.60.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 rallied 0.9% to 4,151.28 after chipmaker Nvidia gave a monster forecast for upcoming sales as it benefits from the tech world’s rush into AI.

The Nasdaq leaped 1.7% to 12,698.09, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1% to 32,764.65.

Because it’s one of Wall Street’s most valuable stocks, Nvidia’s 24.4% surge was the strongest force pushing upward on the S&P 500. Its forecast of roughly $11 billion in revenue for the current quarter blew past analysts’ expectations for less than $7.2 billion. Nvidia’s stock has already more than doubled this year, and its total value is approaching $1 trillion.

Stocks of other chip makers also charged higher after Nvidia described a race by its customers to put AI “into every product, service and business process.” Advanced Micro Devices gained 11.2%.

Some other Big Tech stocks rallied, adding to recent gains fueled by excitement about AI. The field has become so hot that critics warn of a possible bubble, while supporters say it could be the latest revolution to reshape the global economy. Microsoft gained 3.8%, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, rose 2.1%.

But the majority of stocks fell on worries that Washington could run out of cash to pay its bills as soon as June 1, unless Congress allows it to borrow more.

The widespread expectation is for a compromise before it’s too late, as has happened dozens of times before, because a failure would likely be awful for the economy.

Fitch said late Wednesday that it could downgrade the U.S. government’s “AAA” credit rating. It said it still expects a resolution before the U.S. Treasury runs out of cash, but it sees the risk of a mistake having risen.

A report said fewer workers applied for unemployment benefits last week than expected, suggesting the job market remains strong even as manufacturing, housing and other areas of the economy slow under the weight of much higher interest rates.

Another report estimated the U.S. economy grew at a 1.3% annual pace in the first three months of the year, stronger than the 1.1% earlier thought. That report also suggested inflation was a touch hotter during the start of 2023 than earlier thought.

Strong data provide reassurance that the economy might not fall into recession but they also might lead the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates again next month. Rates have been raised rapidly for the past year, helping to slow inflation to slow from its peak last summer, but they slow the entire economy and drag on prices for stocks, bonds and other investments.

In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil shed 13 cents to $70.70 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It sank $2.51 on Thursday to $71.83 per barrel.

Brent crude, the international standard, gave up 30 cents to $75.88 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar fell to 139.81 Japanese yen from 140.07 yen. The euro rose to $1.0739 from $1.0726.

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AP Business Writer Stan Choe contributed.

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