Asia stocks slip as Australia’s jobs data comes in better than expected

Stocks in Asia fell in Thursday morning trade as concerns over the scale of the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic continued to weigh on sentiment.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan fell 1.34% in morning trade as shares of Fanuc declined 2.64%. The Topix index dropped 1.08%. South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.39%.

Mainland Chinese stocks edged lower in early trade, with the Shanghai composite down 0.27% while the Shenzhen composite shed 0.496%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dipped 0.73%.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 fell 1.52% as shares of major banks such as Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac fell at least 2% each.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index traded 0.76% lower.

On the economic data front, Australia’s unemployment rate in March came in at 5.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to data from the country’s bureau of statistics. That was better than expectations of a 5.5% unemployment rate for the month in a Reuters poll, however the statistics bureau cautioned that the data on March employment covered just the first two weeks of the month — before lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus spread kicked in. Investors have been watching recent economic data globally for clues to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Rodrigo Catril, senior foreign exchange strategist at National Australia Bank, wrote in a Thursday note that headlines surrounding the coronavirus pandemic “continue to paint a grim picture.” Globally, more than 2 million people have been infected by the virus while at least 133,354 lives have been taken, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Overnight stateside, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 445.41 points to close at 23,504.35 while the S&P 500 ended its trading day 2.2% lower at 2,783.36. The Nasdaq Composite closed 1.4% lower at 8,393.18. Wednesday’s moves marked the Dow and S&P 500’s worst session since April 1.

The moves came as a report from the U.S. Commerce Department published Wednesday showed retail sales stateside in March plunging a record 8.7% — the largest one-month decline since it began tracking the series in 1992.

Oil prices jumped in the morning of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 3.32% to $28.61 per barrel. U.S crude futures also gained 3.02% to $20.47 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 99.792 after seeing levels below 99.0 yesterday.

The Japanese yen traded at 107.83 per dollar, as compared to levels above 108 seen earlier in the week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6302 after declining from levels above $0.64 yesterday.

— CNBC’s Fred Imbert contributed to this report.

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