Singapore: Asian stocks fell to a three-week low on Monday as soft US jobs data heightened investor caution ahead of the third-quarter corporate results season, while speculation of an early interest rate hike boosted the Australian dollar.
The US dollar lost ground, drawing scant support from a weekend meeting of G-7 ministers, and crude oil prices held below $70 a barrel as the weak data showed the pace and scope of economic recovery remained uncertain.
US employers cut 263,000 jobs in September, more than in August and the 21st straight monthly decline, Labour Department data on Friday showed.
European shares, which ended at a four-week closing low on Friday after the US data, were set for a largely steady start on Monday, helped by a survey showing British finance firms reported their first growth spell in two years in the last quarter.
Investors, banking on a solid bounce from the world’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, had pushed MSCI’s All Country World index to a 12-month high earlier this month, up as much as 70% from its March low.
“While the (US jobs) data was bad and optimism about the US economy may have receded, I do not think market players think that this means that the outlook for the US economy is ruined,” said Hideyuki Ishiguro, supervisor at Okasan Securities’ investment strategy department in Japan.
“I think it just means market sentiment has returned to neutral for the time being,” Ishiguro added.
Investors were also wary ahead of the start of the third-quarter corporate earnings season, which kicks off in the United States this week. Cost cutting helped second-quarter results largely beat expectations, but analysts are now looking for more sustainable signs of improving revenues.
Tokyo’s Nikkei average ended down 0.6% at its lowest close in 11 weeks, with exporters leading declines on worries about US demand.
MSCI’s index of stocks elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific fell 0.4% by 11:35am, touching its lowest since 16 September.
South Korea stocks fared worst, sliding 2.2%, while Taiwan outperformed, rising 0.1%. Shanghai markets were closed for a holiday.
With growing jobless numbers putting further pressure on consumer spending, US interest rates were expected to remain low for the foreseeable future, weighing on the US dollar.
In contrast, the Australian dollar rose ahead of a meeting of the Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday after two influential columnists wrote that there was a real chance of an interest rate rise this week, sooner than many have been expecting.
“We don’t see the urgency for a move and still think they’ll wait, but it sounds like it could be a close call,” said Annette Beacher, a senior strategist at TD Securities in Singapore.
The Aussie traded around $0.8740, recouping most of Friday’s sharp losses.
The dollar index, a measure of its performance against six major currencies, fell 0.3%, while the euro climbed to $1.4634 after ending at around $1.4575 on Friday.
The greenback, down 14% from its March high, got no fresh support from the Group of Seven finance ministers and central bankers. After a weekend meeting in Istanbul, they broke no new ground on currencies, urging China to strengthen the yuan to help correct global imbalances and saying too much foreign exchange volatility tended to threaten economic stability.
Commodity markets tracked equities, as they have for much of the year.
“The market is cautious after the poor US jobs data on Friday. But the overall trend of an economic recovery hasn’t changed and I think investors are using such weaker-than-expected data as an opportunity to take profits,” said Ben Westmore, a commodities analyst at the National Bank of Australia.
US light sweet crude was 5 cents weaker at $69.90, while three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange rose $16 to $5,895 a tonne, bouncing from a two-month low on the back of a weaker dollar.
Doubts about economic recovery and profit-taking on riskier assets has boosted government bonds in recent sessions but looming supplies in the United States and Japan stalled the advance on Monday.