Asian stocks uneven as poor China trade offsets upbeat US jobs data

HONG KONG – Asian stock markets were uneven Monday as investors wrestled with divergent data from the world’s two biggest economies.

KEEPING SCORE: Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.3 per cent to 24,599.85 while the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China clawed back earlier losses to rise 0.3 per cent to 3,085.19. South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.2 per cent to 1,950.87 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.6 per cent to 5,784.40. Japan’s Nikkei 225 added 0.2 per cent to 17,681.53. Markets in Southeast Asia were mixed.

CHINA TRADE: Investors were reacting to Chinese trade data released Sunday that showed imports fell nearly 20 per cent over a year earlier in January. Chinese economic data is usually volatile at the beginning of the year because of Lunar New Year holidays, which falls in January or February each year. But the particularly sharp fall added to worries that the world’s second biggest economy is still weakening after growth in 2014 hit a 24-year low. Exports were also weak, dropping 3.2 per cent from a year earlier.

US JOBS: A surprisingly strong January jobs report for the world’s biggest economy provided evidence that the labour market is nearing full health. Employers added 257,000 jobs last month and wages shot up by the most in six years. The latest report suggested to some investors that the economy is strong enough for the Federal Reserve to soon raise interest rates, a negative for stock markets.

THE QUOTE: “The US employment report is bullish news for markets. It shows that the labour market is continuing its gradual repair,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. However, the good news is “likely to be diluted by concern” about China’s trade data, he said. The trade data may be somewhat distorted by the effect of the Lunar New Year but “the size of the decline in imports makes it impossible to ignore and is likely to have markets on risk alert leading into the next set of figures.”

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks fell after the robust jobs report increased the odds that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates sooner rather than later. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 60.59 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 17,824.29. The Standard & Poor’s 500 lost 7.05 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 2,055.47 and the Nasdaq composite fell 20.70 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 4,744.40.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was up 63 cents to $52.32 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.21 to close at $51.69 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude, a benchmark for oil sold internationally, added 53 cents to $58.33.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 118.74 yen from 119.14 yen in late trading Friday. The euro rose to $1.3336 from $1.1315.