Asian Stocks End Mixed Before US Jobs Data
(RTTNews.com) - Asian stocks ended mixed in cautious trading on Friday, as investors digested Chinese trade data and waited for cues from the U.S. jobs report, which will have implications on the pace of the Federal Reserve's stimulus cuts. Economists expect an increase of about 200,000 jobs in December, while the unemployment rate is seen steady at a five-year low of 7.0 percent.
Chinese shares fell for a third consecutive session, dragged down by industrial and technology companies amid concerns about slowing economic growth. The benchmark Shanghai Composite index dropped 0.7 percent to 2,013, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose 0.3 percent to 22,846, led by gains in property developers.
China posted a merchandise trade surplus of $25.64 billion in December, the customs office said - missing forecasts for a surplus of $32.15 billion, and down sharply from the $33.80 billion surplus in November. Export growth slowed in the month, while imports accelerated, painting a mixed picture of the economy.
Japan's Nikkei index finished 0.2 percent higher at 15,912, erasing early losses. The benchmark index fell more than 2 percent this week after rallying 57 percent last year, driven by monetary and fiscal stimulus. Fast Retailing climbed 3.3 percent after it posted forecast-beating quarterly earnings, helped by strong sales at its Uniqlo clothing chain.
Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma soared almost 17 percent after its partner U.S.-based Intercept Pharmaceuticals Inc. announced positive results from a mid-stage study of the company's experimental therapy to treat liver disease caused by fat buildup. Mitsubishi Materials Corp. fell 1.6 percent in the wake of an explosion at its chemicals plant in western Japan.
On the economic front, Japan's leading economic index increased notably to 110.8 in November from 109.8 in October, the Cabinet Office reported, matching economists' expectations. The coincident economic index moved up to 110.5 from 110.4 in October, while the lagging index advanced to 114.7 from 112.9 a month earlier.
The Australian market ended in the red, dragged down by miners on concerns over a slowdown in China's economy and as U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa, Inc. reported a loss for the fourth quarter. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.2 percent to finish at 5,312. BHP Billiton dropped 1.4 percent, Rio Tinto declined 2.5 percent and smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group tumbled 3 percent.
Banks turned in a mixed performance, with ANZ ending little changed and Commonwealth losing half a percent, while NAB rose 0.4 percent and Westpac advanced 0.9 percent. Warrnambool Cheese and Butter rose 0.7 percent after Canadian dairy giant Saputo extended its $504 million takeover offer for the company until later this month.
Shares of 21st Century Fox fell nearly 5 percent after the company announced plans to delist its shares from the Australian Securities Exchange. Qantas Airways shed 1.3 percent. The carrier had its debt rating cut to "junk" status by Moody's.
In economic releases, new home sales in Australia increased at the strongest pace in nearly four years in November, a report from the Housing Industry Association (HIA) showed. Sales grew 7.5 percent year-over-year in November, posting the fastest monthly growth rate since January 2010.
Seoul shares fell for a third consecutive session, weighed down by foreign fund selling ahead of U.S. jobs data due out later in the global day. The benchmark Kospi average fell 0.4 percent to 1,939, a more than four-month low, with shipbuilders pacing the declines. Samsung Heavy Industries plunged 5.7 percent, Hyundai Heavy Industries tumbled 4.6 percent and Daewoo Shipbuilding lost 3 percent.
New Zealand shares rose sharply on optimism local companies will benefit from a reviving U.S. economy. The benchmark NZX-50 index gained a percent to 4,864, with 33 of its components advancing. Xero and Ryman Healthcare rose about 2 percent each and A2 Corp soared 4.6 percent, while Fonterra Shareholders' Fund Units dropped 1.7 percent and Diligent Board Member Services shed 1.3 percent.
Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, rallied 2.8 percent after data showed Australia's new home sales and private sector building approvals both increased strongly in November.
India's Sensex was moving up 0.4 percent, with IT stocks rallying after Infosys, India's second-largest software services exporter, posted strong Q3 results and raised its revenue growth guidance for the year ending 31 March 2014.
Elsewhere, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite was rallying 1.6 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average rose 0.2 percent, while the markets in Malaysia and Singapore were marginally in the red.
U.S. stocks ended a volatile session little changed overnight, as declines in share prices of market heavyweight ExxonMobil and retailers offset earlier enthusiasm about upbeat jobless claims data pointing to accelerating growth in the labor market. The Dow edged down 0.1 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq shed 0.2 percent, while the S&P 500 inched up marginally.
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