Asian stock markets remain cautious despite strong US data, Wall Street rally

BANGKOK – Asian stock markets mostly retreated Thursday as caution prevailed despite a ninth day of gains on Wall Street and bump up in U.S. retail sales.

In Australia, a report showing the country experienced its strongest job growth in more than a decade in February hurt trading sentiment since it diminished hopes of an interest rate cut, analysts said. The S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.9 per cent to 5,047.

But the trend was not likely to continue because the mining boom that has been fueling growth is sputtering, analysts said.

“It is unlikely that we will see a sustained improvement in jobs numbers despite the decent pace of growth,” analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a market commentary.

BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, fell 2 per cent in Sydney. Rival mining giant Rio Tinto fell 2.1 per cent.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.7 per cent to 22,406.92. South Korea’s Kospi shed 1 per cent to 1,980.06. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines also fell.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rose 0.4 per cent to 12,282.95. Benchmarks in mainland China and New Zealand also rose.

On Wednesday, a U.S. government report showed retail sales grew 1.1 per cent in January from the previous month, almost twice as much as forecast. The rise showed consumer spending, which makes up about three quarters of economic activity in the U.S., was not inhibited by recent tax increases.

Market sentiment had been dented earlier in the day, when official statistics showed that industrial production across the 17 euro countries fell by a worse-than-expected 0.4 per cent in January. Both Germany and France, the two industrial powerhouses in the region, registered drops in production.

The Dow Jones industrial average notched its ninth gain in a row Wednesday, giving the index its longest winning streak in more than 16 years. Demand for stocks has been propelled this year by optimism that the housing market is recovering and that companies have started to hire. Strong company earnings and ongoing stimulus from the Federal Reserve are also helping make stocks more attractive.

The Dow rose 0.04 per cent to close at 14,455.28. The S&P 500 rose 0.1 per cent to close at 1,554.52. The Nasdaq composite rose nearly 0.1 per cent to 3,245.12.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2964 from $1.2961 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 95.82 yen from 96.04 yen.

Benchmark crude for April delivery was down 19 cents to $92.33 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 2 cents to close at $92.52 on the Nymex on Wednesday.


Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at