Asia tracks Wall St sell-off as US labour market softens

Asia tracks Wall St sell-off as US labour market softens

Traders are fixing their eyes on the US jobs report due at the end of the week
Traders are fixing their eyes on the US jobs report due at the end of the week.Photo: Daniel ROLAND / AFP
Source: AFP

Asian stocks sank Thursday, extending a rollercoaster week across world markets as investors jockey for position ahead of key US jobs data, while oil struggled to bounce back after hitting a five-month low.

After a November rally built on optimism that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates next year, this month has seen those positions unwinding on concerns the buying may have been overdone.

Data on Thursday from payrolls firm ADP showing a smaller-than-forecast rise in private sector jobs reinforced views that the labour market and economy were slowing as inflation comes down. Figures released Tuesday showed job openings were also falling.

That has fuelled bets on the Fed slashing borrowing costs, with some saying as early as the first quarter — even as bank officials say they are keeping the option of another hike on the table.

Decision-makers hold their next policy meeting next week, and that will be pored over for clues about their plans for 2024.

The sharp slowdown in jobs creation, however, is causing some concern.

“The slowdown in hiring continues and is becoming more obvious,” said Peter Boockvar, author of the Boock Report.

“What I’m mostly focused on right now is the trajectory of activity and all I see is slowing in multiple places, including now the labour market.”

And SPI Asset Management’s Stephen Innes said: “The US labour market is showing signs of contracting much faster than expected.

“This is not necessarily a ‘risk-on’ panacea, especially if the downward momentum in the jobs markets picks up a good head of steam.”

All three main indexes on Wall Street ended in the red, and Innes added that the pullback from November may be down to a fear that rate cut expectations might have been overdone.

Traders are pricing more than one percentage point of cuts next year, he said.

“While the growth outlook has moderated in recent weeks… the economy does not appear to be heading for a recession in 2024, which — despite progress on inflation — might not compel the Fed to cut as aggressively as the current market pricing might suggest,” he warned.

He said any hawkish turn from the Fed or a data shock could spark a heavy sell-off in markets.

With all eyes on Friday’s crucial non-farm payrolls figures, Asian traders were taking cash off the table Thursday.

Hong Kong and Tokyo fell more than one percent each, while Shanghai, Sydney, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Wellington, Jakarta and Manila were also in the red.

Oil prices edged up in early business, though they made little headway into the near four percent losses seen Wednesday that put WTI below $70 for the first time since July.

Data pointing to a jump in US stockpiles compounded demand worries as economies slow, while traders remain sceptical that Saudi Arabia and its allies will stick to recently pledged deep output cuts.

Analysts have begun to consider the possibility that Riyadh could abruptly reopen the taps to maintain market share, similar to a move in 2014 to counter rising US production.

Key figures around 0230 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.6 percent at 32,899.94 (break)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.7 percent at 16,191.06

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 2,953.83

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 146.76 yen from 147.35 yen on Wednesday

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0770 from $1.0768

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2560 from $1.2559

Euro/pound: UP at 85.73 pence from 85.71 pence

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.5 percent at $69.74 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.4 percent at $74.59 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 36,054.43 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,515.38 (close)

Source: AFP

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