Asia stocks mostly down on US rates expectations

Asia stocks mostly down on US rates expectations

HONG KONG - Most Asian markets slipped Monday as a strong US jobs report fuelled expectations the Federal Reserve will bring forward an interest rate rise.

But poor Chinese trade data lifted shares in Shanghai on hopes Beijing will introduce renewed easing measures.

Oil prices advanced after last week enjoying their best weekly gains in four years. Traders are also watching events in Europe as Greece's new anti-austerity government prepares to meet its creditors.

Tokyo ended 0.36 per cent higher, adding 63.43 points to 17,711.93 as the yen softened against the dollar in reaction to the US jobs data. Shanghai finished up 0.62 per cent, or 19.22 points, at 3,095.12.

But Sydney, which jumped more than 10 per cent during a 12-day winning streak, ended marginally lower, giving up 5.3 points to 5,814.9.

Seoul closed 0.44 per cent, or 8.52 points, lower at 1,947.00 and Hong Kong slipped 0.64 per cent, or 158.39 points, to 24,521.00.

China on Sunday said exports fell 3.2 per cent year-on-year in January. Imports plunged 19.7 per cent - the largest drop in five years - owing to lower commodity prices and sluggish domestic demand.

The figures are the latest illustration of China's slowing economy, which in 2014 expanded at its slowest rate in 24 years.

However, mainland Chinese traders took the news as a catalyst to buy, with hopes that leaders will further loosen monetary policy.

Last week authorities cut the amount of cash which banks must keep in reserve, after lowering interest rates in November.

Investors are also tracking the US Fed after a better-than-expected jobs report on Friday increased the chances of an early rate increase.

The Labor Department said 257,000 jobs were created in January and it revised upward already healthy growth in the prior two months. It also said hourly wage growth gained 0.5 per cent, a big improvement after a December drop.

Oil extends rally

"This US jobs report has altered market expectations for rate rises from the Fed, with many now expecting the Fed to raise rates in the early summer," said Stewart Richardson, chief investment officer at RMG Wealth Management LLP in London.

"We will see just how brave the Fed will be," he told Bloomberg News.

Wall Street's three main indexes ended lower Friday. The Dow dipped 0.34 per cent, the S&P 500 also lost 0.34 per cent and the Nasdaq gave up 0.43 per cent.

The dollar rallied Friday following the announcement, climbing to 119.00 yen in New York from 117.33 yen in Tokyo earlier in the day. On Monday it was at 118.95 yen.

The euro bought $1.1341 and 134.87 yen on Monday against $1.1316 and 134.65 yen in US trade.

On oil markets the two main contracts extended their recent gains following the US jobs data as well as a decline in the number of US rigs drilling.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for March delivery rose 36 cents to $52.05, while Brent crude for March rose 10 cents to $57.90 in afternoon trade.

Last week saw WTI surge seven per cent and Brent add 9.4 per cent, their best weekly gains since February 2011.

Gold fetched $1,242. 23 an ounce, against $1,264.34 on Friday.

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