Asia stocks mixed on patchy US economic data

Asia stocks mixed on patchy US economic data

HONG KONG - Asian stocks were mixed on Thursday, as gains on Wall Street drove trading in Tokyo but patchy US economic data fed wider uncertainty in the region.

Asian stocks were mixed as gains on Wall Street drove trading in Tokyo but patchy US economic data fed wider uncertainty in the region

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday the US service sector expanded 4.3% in July to a record high, but payroll firm ADP estimated the US private sector added 185,000 jobs in July, below analysts' estimate for 220,000 additional jobs.

Tokyo rose 0.24% to finish up 50.38 points at 20,664.64, while Seoul lost 0.81%, or 16.47 points, on losses from technology firms and mobile carriers to end the day at 2,013.29.

Sydney slid 1.13% to close down 63.9 points at 5,610.10 due to higher than estimated unemployment figures and a major bank's share sale.

Shanghai fell 0.84% following a sharp drop in opening trade, while Hong Kong was down 0.58% in mid-afternoon trading.

Taipei fell 1.09%, or 92.71 points, to 8,449.56 and Wellington closed down 0.17%, or 9.82 points, at 5,928.69.

Kuala Lumpur's main index fell 1.79%, or 30.92 points, to 1,694.64 but Singapore rose 0.17%, or 5.27 points, to 3,196.66.

Jakarta was down 0.91%, or 43.97 points, at 4,806.57.

The US data strengthened the case for an earlier interest rate hike from the Fed, analysts said, weakening the yen and providing a boost for Japanese stocks.

A weak yen is positive for Japanese exporters but pushes up import costs.

"The weaker currency will be a tailwind for Japanese stocks. We'll still see a focus on individual earnings results," Yutaka Miura, a technical analyst at Mizuho Securities, told Bloomberg News.

The Bank of Japan begins a two-day meeting Thursday, with all eyes on signs of when policymakers may launch further easing measures.

Australian equities fell after ANZ Bank announced a share sale worth A$2.5 billion ($1.8 billion), while the Aussie dollar weakened after unemployment unexpectedly jumped to 6.3% in July.

Analysts floated the possibility of an interest rate cut following the spike in joblessness, which came despite a hiring surge.

"The market is downplaying stronger jobs growth given the rise in unemployment," Kieran Davies, chief economist at Barclays Plc in Sydney, told Bloomberg News. "I see a risk of a further rate cut given the Australian dollar still looks overvalued."

Australia's unemployment rate has edged up over the past year to its highest in almost a decade, while wages growth has been weak and business investment outside the mining sector remains soft.

After the closing bell, mining giant Rio Tinto announced its half-year net profit had fallen 82%, hit by a supply glut and waning Chinese demand.

In Shanghai, a second day of losses in the context of a recent market rout compounded fears for the Chinese economy.

The Shanghai Composite Index has tumbled nearly 30% from its highest point in June over fears for the health of the world's second-biggest economy.

The government has restricted short selling, suspended initial public offerings (IPOs) and allowed some companies to halt trading, while funding a state-backed firm to buy stocks, but the measures may be hitting investor confidence, analysts believe.

"The market needs its own strength to recover," Zhang Haidong, chief strategist at Jinkuang Investment Management in Shanghai, told Bloomberg News.

"The coming economic data don't seem to be good and will add additional pressure," he said, referring to export and trade data due out this weekend.

Focus on US job figures

US stocks finished mostly higher Wednesday, but a disappointing earnings report from Disney weighed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which shed 0.06% at 17,540.47.

The broad-based S&P 500 gained 0.31% at 2,099.84, and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.67% to 5,139.94.

Traders are now focusing on Friday's official US employment figures.

Oil prices rose as dealers digested a mixed US energy report showing a big drawdown in crude stockpiles but an increase in US production as well.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for September delivery rose a cent to $45.16 while Brent crude for September gained eight cents to $49.67.

"Crude prices continued to remain weak with focus on oversupply," said Sanjeev Gupta, head of the Asia-Pacific oil and gas practice at business consultancy firm EY.

The dollar fetched 124.78 yen in early morning trade in Tokyo, against 124.88 yen in New York late Wednesday.

The euro was quoted at $1.0912 and 136.16 yen, against $1.0904 and 136.18 yen.

Gold fetched $1,085.26.88 an ounce compared with $1,085.72 late Wednesday.

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