Asian markets cautious on China trade data, Europe gains ground ahead of key US jobs report

MUMBAI, India – Asian stock markets were cautious Friday after a slowdown in China’s exports dimmed sentiment, while European stocks gained ground ahead of a key U.S. jobs report.

Japan’s Nikkei closed with a slight gain of 0.2 per cent to 15,912.06 while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose by 0.3 per cent to 22,846.25.

South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.4 per cent to 1,938.54 and the Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.7 per cent to 2,103.30. India’s Sensex rose by 0.3 per cent to 20,783.99.

The choppy trading in Asia followed China’s release of trade data for December showing a deceleration in export growth, which suggests demand from Western nations remains tepid. That glum news was partially offset by an increase in import growth that pointed to some resilience in the world’s No. 2 economy.

“Perhaps the fact that the numbers out of China aren’t that bad suggests there is no need for officials to loosen policy, which is deemed a negative by some investors,” said Stan Shamu, strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia.

Markets will be closely watching the U.S. government jobs report for December due later Friday. Economists expect employers added 196,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained at 7 per cent. The strength of the report could shift expectations about how quickly the Federal Reserve reduces its economic stimulus.

European stocks regained some ground after taking a hit the previous day on the European Central Bank’s decision to leave interest rates unchanged.

Germany’s DAX was up 0.5 per cent in early trading to 9,472.80 and Britain’s FTSE 100 added 0.7 per cent to 6,734.91. France’s CAC gained 0.6 per cent to 4,248.84.

Futures augured gains on Wall Street, with Dow futures up 0.2 per cent and S&P 500 futures ahead by 0.3 per cent.

Benchmark crude for February delivery was up 84 cents to $92.50 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 67 cents to $91.66 on Thursday.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 104.98 yen from 104.89 yen late Thursday. The euro fell to $1.3598 from $1.3606.