Asian stock markets drift in holiday-thinned trade after weak US employment report

Asian stocks drifted Monday, with many markets closed for holidays, after a surprisingly weak U.S. employment report.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 dropped 0.2 per cent to 19,397.98 while Seoul’s Kospi rose 0.1 per cent to 2,046.43. Singapore’s benchmark was little changed at 3,455.30. Indonesia’s index rose 0.4 per cent. Markets were closed in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. European markets were closed for Easter Monday. Futures pointed to weakness on Wall Street. S&P 500 futures were down 0.7 per cent to 2,045.60.

U.S. JOBS: Employers added just 126,000 new jobs in March, the smallest gain since December 2013. That ended 12 straight months of gains above 200,000. Even so, the unemployment rate remained at 5.5 per cent. For markets it was mixed news. It suggests the Federal Reserve won’t raise interest rates midyear but also indicates the economy weakened in the first quarter. Economic growth has been hampered this year by harsh winter weather, slowdowns at factories and lacklustre construction activity. The government also cut its previous estimates of job gains in February and January by a combined 69,000.

THE QUOTE: “Friday’s big US payrolls miss would typically have shocked markets into a big move,” analyst Nicholas Teo at CMC Markets in Singapore said in a commentary. “With the extended Easter weekend break, however, traders may have had the time to digest this huge blow, along with their chocolate eggs. Some were even willing to speculate that this sluggish momentum in U.S. job creation could persuade the Fed to move on rates later.”

US TRADING: U.S. government bond prices jumped and the dollar dipped on Friday following the employment report. The stock market was closed in observance of Good Friday. Traders saw the weaker-than-expected job gains in March as a sign that the Federal Reserve might delay raising interest rates. The rise in bond prices sent the yield on the 10-year Treasury down to its lowest level in two months.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was up $1.62 at $50.76 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The futures contract last settled on Thursday as Nymex trading was closed for Good Friday. Brent crude was up $1.50 at $56.45 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.

CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.0983 from $1.0895 on Friday. The dollar rose to 119.01 yen from 118.97 yen.