Asian stock markets fall ahead of key US jobs report; Nikkei plunges as yen strengthens

BANGKOK – Asian stock markets fell Friday, ignoring a rebound on Wall Street, as investors stayed on the sidelines ahead of a key U.S. jobs report later in the day.

Investors were also registering disappointment with the European Central Bank after it failed to fulfil hopes for a dramatic step to spark economic activity in the recession-mired region. Confusion about which direction the U.S. Federal Reserve might go with its bond-buying stimulus also kept investors edgy.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 1.3 per cent to 12,734.91 after the dollar sank against the yen Thursday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.6 per cent to 21,715.68. South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.5 per cent to 1,930.80. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.7 per cent to 4,746.40.

Later Friday, the U.S. Labor Department will release its employment report for May. The report is closely watched for signs of improvement in hiring, critical for the health of an economy trying to pick up the pace of a sluggish recovery.

On Thursday, investors were disheartened by lack of new initiatives from European Central Bank president Mario Draghi to help boost ailing European economies.

Even though the ECB cut its 2013 growth and inflation forecasts for the 17-country euro currency grouping, Draghi said the governing council felt there was no reason to act now, especially as recent data suggest an improvement in the current gloomy economic conditions.

Fed chief Ben Bernanke has said the U.S. central bank might pull back on its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program if economic data — especially hiring — improves. But other Fed officials have spoken about a winding down of asset purchases sooner. The uncertainty over a possible tapering of the stimulus has been a cause for concern for many stock investors over the past couple of weeks. The stimulus has been a boon to stocks, which have been pushed up by investors looking for returns that outpace bonds.

Wall Street stocks posted a modest recovery Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.5 per cent to 15,040.62 points. The Standard & Poor’s 500 added 0.9 per cent, to 1,622.56 points. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.7 per cent, to 3,424.05 points.

Benchmark oil for July delivery was down 3 cents to $94.73 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.02 to close at $94.76 a barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3250 from $1.3245 late Thursday in New York. The dollar fell to 96.44 yen from 97.22 yen.


Follow Pamela Sampson on Twitter at