Asian stock markets drift as global economic outlook dims, oil falls

Asian stock markets drifted Tuesday, taking a negative cue from Wall Street as the economic outlook for next year clouds.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average was up 0.2 per cent at 17,629.55 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.4 per cent to 23,449.24. Seoul’s Kospi was down 0.2 per cent at 1,962.11. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 1.4 per cent to 5,278.70 as metal prices rose off recent lows. Markets in Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia were higher while Thailand and India fell.

GLOBAL GLOOM: Markets were absorbing a number of unsettling trends including further weakness in China’s economy, weak holiday retail sales in the U.S. and the slump in oil prices. Faltering recoveries in Europe and Japan add to the picture of an anemic global economy. Meanwhile, the drop in oil prices from above $100 a barrel to below $70 is putting stress on oil-exporting nations, Russia particularly, which is already under strain from Western sanctions over its backing of the rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

THE QUOTE: “Russia will be the one to watch next year,” said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. The country “stands to lose a staggering $90 to $100 billion in oil royalties because of the price decline,” he said. “We have seen Moscow flexing its might in 2014. I’m asking myself whether backing itself into a corner under the crippling financial strain will see it come to the negotiation table or will it rage against the machine to get itself out?”

WALL STREET: Mounting signs of weakness in the global economy and a poor start to the holiday shopping season knocked the stock market lower on Monday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 14.12 points, or 0.7 per cent, to close at 2,053.44. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 51.44 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 17,776.80, while the Nasdaq composite fell 64.28 points, or 1.3 per cent, to 4,727.35.

ENERGY: The front-month U.S. crude futures contract was down 50 cents at $68.50 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Monday, it jumped $2.85 to close at an even $69 as it rebounded from a rout that had knocked about $40 off the price of a barrel of crude since June. Analysts still expect oil prices to remain weak given OPEC’s decision last week to maintain its current production targets. That, combined with rising production in the U.S., has created an oversupplied oil market.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 118.46 yen from 118.27 yen late Monday. The euro fell to $1.2465 from $1.2475.