HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian markets were mixed heading into the weekend yesterday with energy firms again taking a hit from a plunge in oil prices, while investors look ahead to the release of key US jobs data later in the day.
Observers said there may have been some caution setting in after a report suggesting the long-running trade talks between China and the United States had hit a snag.
With optimism fuelled by a broadly strong earnings season beginning to fade, dealers are taking their cash off the table after a strong start to the year, while analysts noted that May is a traditionally weak month for equities.
Energy firms were once again in the firing line, dropping in tandem with crude prices owing to worries about rising supplies and falling demand.
Brent has tumbled around 6.5 percent and WTI is off more than seven percent from six-month highs touched just last week, taking another hit Thursday from data showing a surge in US stockpiles and output.
The commodity had been rallying in recent weeks on the back of output cuts led by OPEC and Russia (OPEC+) unrest in Libya, the political crisis in Venezuela and hopes for the China-US trade talks.
But analysts pointed out that a would-be coup in Caracas has fizzled, tensions in Libya have eased and the major producing countries appear to be rolling back on commitments to turn off the taps.
“Expectations are dwindling that OPEC+ will be able to deliver on any extension on production cuts,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA.
“Even if they do show optimism at the next meeting on May 17th, many will not expect an extended cut agreement to have the same effect as the first one. Right now the path of least resistance for oil remains to the downside.”
Hong Kong-listed CNOOC dived 1.6 percent and PetroChina 0.4 percent, while Woodside Petroleum shed 0.9 percent in Sydney and Santos sank more than two percent.
On broader stock markets, Hong Kong rose 0.5 percent, Taipei added 0.8 percent and Mumbai put on 0.3 percent with Manila slightly higher.
But Seoul sank 0.7 percent with Sydney, Wellington and Jakarta also lower. Singapore was barely moved. Tokyo and Shanghai were closed for holidays.
In early trade London rose 0.2 percent, while Paris and Frankfurt were up 0.1 percent.
Attention is now on the release of US non-farm payrolls data that will provide a fresh snapshot of the world’s top economy.
The figures come after the head of the Federal Reserve disappointed markets by saying recent weak inflation was ‘transitory’, denting hopes the bank would consider an interest rate cut this year.
A strong jobs report would reinforce Jerome Powell’s view that the economy was broadly healthy and all but kill off any chance of a cut in the near future.
There is also some unease after a report in Chinese media speculated that negotiators from China and the US had hit an impasse in the trade talks, citing the fact there were few details from their most recent talks in Beijing this week.
“Whilst these are just initial reports, clearly anything that suggests the US and China won’t agree a deal will rattle investors,” said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst for Markets.com.
However, National Australia Bank pointed out that the comments contradicted reports by Politico and CNBC saying a deal could come as soon as next Friday.