HONG KONG (AFP) - Japanese stocks edged up yesterday as they reopened after being shut down all the previous day by a technical fault, though markets across Asia were mixed in holiday-thinned trade with investors keeping an eye on stimulus talks in Washington.
After September’s sell-off, Wall Street got the new quarter off to a positive start as technology firms appeared to rediscover their mojo, helped by a dip in US jobless claims that provided hope for key non-farm payrolls data later in the day.
However, news that several big-name firms including Walt Disney, American Airlines and United had cut tens of thousands of posts, and that Americans’ personal income had dived, fuelled concerns about the outlook for the consumer-driven US economy.
The bigger-than-feared fall in income came as expectations dwindled that US lawmakers will have time to pass a new stimulus package before the November 3 presidential election.
“The data highlights the imperative of a new fiscal support package if consumption is not to derail the economic recovery in the fourth quarter,” said National Australia Bank strategist Ray Attrill.
“Yet overnight we have no sign of progress towards reconciliation between the Democrats and the White House, even though both sides continue to express optimism on the ability to reach a compromise.”
Democrats pushed their latest US$ 2.2 trillion proposal through the House, where they hold a majority, but without any opposition support, there is no chance it will be agreed by the Republican-dominated Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin held a series of talks Thursday to find a way through the deadlock but when asked whether a chance still remained for an agreement, Pelosi replied: “I don’t know.”
Georgetown University’s governmental affairs institute senior fellow Josh Huder said: “I can’t tell how much of this is genuine effort to pass a bill and how much is position-taking prior to the election.”
Most Asian markets were in the red, with Sydney losing one percent, while Singapore, Manila, Jakarta and Wellington all retreated.
Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, Seoul and Taipei were all closed for holidays.
However, Tokyo edged up 0.2 percent by lunch as investors returned to their stations following Thursday’s blackout, which Tokyo Stock Exchange said was down to a hardware failure.
Officials said there was no indication of a cyber attack and the problem had been traced to a memory breakdown that failed to properly trigger a switch to a back-up system.
Fixing it would have required a system restart that “would have created confusion among investors and market participants”, said TSE president Koichiro Miyahara at a Thursday news conference.
“After discussing with market participants, we decided to stop the market for the whole day.”
On currency markets, the pound extended losses after the European Union launched legal action over the British government’s attempt to overturn parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
While the move is not expected to derail post-Brexit trade talks, it reflects mounting tension in Brussels as time runs short for a deal.
Oil prices dropped more than one percent, extending Thursday sharp drops on worries about the deadlock on Capitol Hill as well as concerns about demand after the US income data.
For crude, “a move higher is only possible if a fiscal agreement is reached”, said Axi analyst Stephen Innes.