Asian stocks rise as markets shrug off weak US jobs report, expect better US earnings

BEIJING, China – Asian stocks markets rose Monday as investors shrugged off weak U.S. employment figures and looked forward with optimism to U.S. earnings season.

Oil stayed above $94 a barrel but gave up some gains after soaring more than $1 on Friday on expectations weak job numbers might prompt the U.S. Federal Reserve to reconsider plans to reduce its stimulus.

China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.3 per cent to 2,019.21. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.4 per cent to 22,929.1 and Seoul’s Kospi rose 0.6 per cent to 1,950.73. Tokyo was closed for a holiday.

Markets quickly dismissed Friday’s unexpectedly weak data showing a sharp decline in hiring by American companies last month. Analysts said it was a fluke, due partly to bitterly cold weather, following weeks of data showing the U.S. economy improving.

“We see no convincing evidence that the weakness represents the start of a trend,” said Jim O’Sullivan of High-Frequency Economics in a report.

Analysts said there was little chance the jobs numbers might prompt the Fed to reconsider its plans to wind down stimulus.

The Fed has been buying $85 billion of bonds per month to force down interest rates and spur economic growth, helping to buoy stock prices. The Fed said in December it would reduce its purchases by $10 billion per month to $75 billion beginning this month due to an improving economy.

Market benchmarks in New Zealand, Singapore, Manila and Jakarta all rose. Sydney bucked the trend with its S&P/ASX 200 shedding 0.2 per cent to 5,301.00.

Bangkok declined 0.1 per cent amid protests by anti-government activists aimed at forcing the Thai prime minister from office. Analysts say the Thai economy and currency could suffer if the protests continue.

“We expect the blockade of Bangkok to have an increasingly negative impact as the month progresses,” said Credit Agricole CIB in a report.

Investors elsewhere were encouraged as they looked ahead to U.S. corporate earnings due to reported in coming weeks.

“Expectations are fairly buoyant,” said Evan Lucas of Australia’s IG Markets in a report. He said expectations are for a 9 per cent increase in profits due to improved economic conditions.

The U.S. jobs data Friday showed companies added 74,000 workers in December, which was the smallest increase since January 2011. The unemployment rate fell by 0.3 percentage points to 6.7 per cent, but that was largely due to people dropping out of the labour force.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial average fell less than 0.1 per cent after the jobs report. If not for a slump in Chevron, which reported lower oil and gas production, the index would have risen slightly. The Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 0.2 per cent.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares ended the week up 0.7 per cent. Germany’s DAX rose 0.6 per cent and the CAC-40 in France was 0.6 per cent higher.

In currency markets, the dollar gained 0.6 per cent to 103.29 yen. The euro was steady at $1.368.

Crude oil for February delivery shed 24 cents to $92.49 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.