Asian Markets Mostly Lower Amid Cautious Trade

Asian stock markets are trading mostly lower on Thursday, following the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street, as traders remain cautious as they look ahead to the release of the Labor Department’s closely watched monthly jobs report on Friday for directional clues on the economy. Asian markets closed mostly higher on Wednesday.

U.S. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last week that the central bank is likely to start scaling back bond purchases this year depending upon the improvement in the labor market.

Traders also remain spooked amid the continuing spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus in the region and in several countries as well as the strong resurgence of infection rates in the U.S.

The Australian stock market is significantly lower on Thursday, extending the slight losses in the previous session, with the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 below the 7,500 level, following the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street, as traders remain spooked amid the worsening domestic coronavirus situation, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, which is hindering economic activity.

Traders are also nervous after Australian doctors warned today that the country’s hospitals were not ready to cope with the government’s reopening plans.

NSW has reported 1,288 new local cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths on Wednesday, with Melbourne and Sydney, two of the largest cities, and more regional areas under tougher restrictions and lockdowns. Victoria recorded 176 new locally acquired cases, with active cases now totalling 1,029 across the state.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 63.00 points or 0.84 percent to 7,464.10, after hitting a low of 7,437.20 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 53.00 points or 0.68 percent to 7,760.00. Australian markets ended slightly lower on Wednesday.

Among major miners, Rio Tinto is losing more than 1 percent each, while Fortescue Metals is edging up 0.4 percent. OZ Minerals is lower by almost 1 percent and BHP Group is down more than 7 percent as it began trading ex-dividend. Mineral Resources is flat.

Oil stocks are mixed. Santos and Beach Energy are edging up 0.2 percent each, while Origin Energy and Woodside Petroleum are losing more than 1 percent each. Oil Search is edging up 0.4 percent.

Among the big four banks, Commonwealth Bank and ANZ Banking are edging down 0.3 percent each, while National Australia Bank and Westpac are losing almost 1 percent each.

In the tech space, WiseTech Global is gaining almost 1 percent, while Xero is edging down 0.3 percent, Afterpay is losing almost 1 percent and Appen is flat.

Gold miners are mostly lower. Evolution Mining is losing more than 1 percent, Newcrest Mining is down almost 1 percent, Northern Star Resources is declining almost 2 percent and Gold Road Resources is lower by more than 2 percent. Resolute Mining is gaining more than 1 percent.

In other news, shares in United Malt Group are plunging more than 8 percent after said trading in North America and the UK has improved, but it will still make a $22 million provision in its full-year result as COVID-19 hurt consumption, contractors, and customers.

In economic news, Australia posted a seasonally adjusted merchandise trade surplus of A$12.117 billion in July, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday. That beat forecasts for a surplus of A$10.2 billion and was up from A$10.496 billion in June. Exports climbed A$2.090 billion or 5.0 percent on month to A$45.951 billion, up from 4.0 percent a month earlier. Imports were up A$1.087 billion or 3.0 percent on month to A$33.834 billion, accelerating from 1 percent.

In the currency market, the Aussie dollar is trading at $0.736 on Thursday.

The Japanese stock market is slightly higher in choppy trading on Thursday, extending the gains in the previous three sessions, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 staying below the 27,500 level, following the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street, on reports of an uptick in domestic factory activity for the seventh straight month in August.

Japan is also grappling with the unprecedented spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus that continues to stifle economic activity in most of the cities in the country. Japan confirmed 20,031 new infections on Wednesday, bringing the total tally to 1.5 million.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed the morning session at 28,476.01, up 24.99 points or 0.09 percent, after touching a high of 28,626.20 and hitting a low of 28,412.91 earlier. Japanese shares ended sharply higher on Wednesday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group is edging up 0.1 percent, while Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing is edging down 0.4 percent. Among automakers, Toyota is edging down 0.4 percent and Honda is losing almost 1 percent.

In the tech space, Advantest is gaining more than 2 percent and Tokyo Electron is adding 1.5 percent, while Screen Holdings is flat.

In the banking sector, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is losing almost 1 percent, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is down more than 1 percent and Mizuho Financial is edging down 0.5 percent.

The major exporters are lower. Sony is gaining almost 1 percent, while Panasonic is losing 1.5 percent, Mitsubishi Electric is down almost 1 percent and Canon is declining more than 1 percent.

Among the other major gainers, NTT Data, Kikkoman, NEXON and Yokogawa Electric are gaining almost 3 percent each, while Taiyo Yuden, Toto, MS&AD Insurance Group and Nissan Chemical are adding almost 2 percent each.

Conversely, West Japan Railway is plunging more than 1 percent, East Japan Railway is losing more than 8 percent, Central Japan Railway is down almost 6 percent, Tokyu is declining more than 5 percent and Mitsui Mining & Smelting is lower by more than 4 percent, while Nippon Steel, Odakyu Electric Railway and ANA Holdings are losing almost 4 percent each.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the 110 yen-range on Thursday.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea is down 0.9 percent, while New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore are lower by between 0.1 and 0.6 percent each. Hong Kong and China are gaining 0.3 percent each.

On Wall Street, stocks saw strength for much of the session on Wednesday before giving back ground in the latter part of the trading day. Despite the late-day pullback, the tech-heavy Nasdaq ended the session at a new record closing high.

The major averages finished the day on opposite sides of the unchanged line. While the Dow edged down 48.20 points or 0.1 percent to 35,312.53, the Nasdaq rose 50.15 points or 0.3 percent to 15,309.38 and the S&P 500 inched up 1.41 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 4,524.09.

Meanwhile, the major European markets moved to the upside on the day. The French CAC 40 Index jumped by 1.2 percent and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.4 percent, although the German DAX Index bucked the uptrend and slipped by 0.1 percent.

Crude oil futures settled marginally higher on Wednesday after data showed a drop in U.S. crude inventories last week. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for October ended up $0.09 or 0.1 percent at $68.59 a barrel.

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