Asia stocks lower after Europe growth downgraded, oil falls to fresh low

SEOUL, South Korea – Asian stock markets mostly fell Wednesday as the slump in oil prices weighed on energy companies and lower growth estimates for Europe dampened sentiment.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 dipped 0.2 per cent to 16,827.28 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.5 per cent to 23,733.24. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 declined 0.3 per cent to 5,501.5. Markets in mainland China and Taiwan also fell while South Korea, Singapore and Indonesia were slightly higher.

OIL SLUMP: After hitting the lowest price since October 2011, benchmark U.S. crude rebounded slightly, adding 9 cents to $77.28 a barrel. The contract fell $1.59 to $77.19 on Tuesday. Oil prices have been in slump since the summer and the price of oil fell further Tuesday after Saudi Arabia decided to sell its oil at bargain prices to the U.S. in a bid to maintain its market share amid a boom in U.S. production. Lower oil prices are a double-edge sword for Asia. They could add to deflationary pressures in Japan and also serve as a reminder of weak global demand. But lower fuel costs could also increase disposable income.

EU GROWTH: The European Union cut its already low economic growth forecasts further on Tuesday to 0.8 per cent for this year from a prediction of 1.2 per cent made in the spring. Next year’s growth forecast for the 18 country euro currency bloc was reduced from 1.7 per cent to 1.1 per cent. German Chancellor Angela Markel said the situation in the euro zone is “extremely fragile.” Unemployment in the European Union is expected to decrease, but at a painfully slow rate.

THE QUOTE: “News that the EU has downgraded forecasts for euro zone growth is not a great surprise to markets given the tendency for forecasts to follow the economy lower,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets. “Even so, it reinforces expectations of a low to moderate global growth outlook with downside risk to inflation.”

SOFTBANK SLIDE: Shares of Japanese telecommunications and internet company Softbank fell 3.6 per cent in Tokyo after its quarterly financial report showed that its recent acquisition of U.S. carrier Sprint Corp. would weigh on its operating earnings. Sprint is eliminating 2,000 jobs, or about 5 per cent of its staff, to cut $1.5 billion in annual spending. It reported a reported a $765 million loss last quarter.

WALL STREET: U.S. markets closed lower as energy stocks lost ground because of the falling oil price. The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 0.3 per cent to 2,012.10. The Nasdaq composite dropped 0.3 per cent to 4,623.64. The Dow Jones industrial average bucked the trend, edging up 0.1 per cent to 17,383.84.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 113.75 yen from 131.69 yen late Tuesday. The euro strengthened to $1.2564 from $1.2548.