HONG KONG-Asian markets were mixed Friday ahead of a crucial US jobs report later in the day and following data showing inflation had ticked up slightly. The labour report comes at the end of a week that has seen traders cheered by figures indicating the world’s top economy is showing signs of softening, easing pressure on the Federal Reserve to lift interest rates further. Investors were also assessing China’s latest moves to help the country’s battered property sector as authorities face growing calls to introduce a big-bang economic growth stimulus.
Wall Street’s three main indexes ended a volatile August on a tepid note Thursday after data showed the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation -- the personal consumption expenditures index -- ticked a little higher in July. While the reading was in line with expectations, traders were little moved as they laser in on the non-farm jobs figures due later Friday, with hopes they will show the labour market continued to soften in August.
Other data this week on job openings, factory activity, and economic growth, among other things, have fuelled optimism that the US central bank will not need to tighten monetary policy anymore. However, analysts said there was an acceptance that rates will likely stay elevated for some time as more than a year of increases are allowed to work through the system, with no cuts seen for some time. Bridgewater Associates’ Karen Karniol-Tambour said: “When you look at what it takes to get fast rate declines, usually you need the economy collapsing pretty quickly.”
“That’s very far from where we are today,” she said in an interview for an upcoming episode of Bloomberg Wealth with David Rubenstein.
There is a broad expectation rates will be held this month, though some observers warn that more signs of inflation heading north again could see the Fed hike as soon as November. Asia investors traded cautiously Friday, with Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, Manila, and Jakarta up but Sydney and Wellington in the red. Hong Kong was closed because of a typhoon in the city. Chinese dealers were cheered after officials unveiled their latest measures to help the property sector by allowing cities to cut down payments for home buyers and encourage lenders to lower rates on existing mortgages.
The moves follow a series of pledges in August to shore up the industry, which is being ravaged by a gargantuan debt crisis. Among them are rate cuts, lower rules for mortgage applicants, tax rebates for people upgrading their homes, and a cap on commissions. But observers say traders were unlikely to drag markets out of their slumber unless the government unleashes the sort of $550 billion “bazooka” seen in 2008 during the global financial crisis.
Data Thursday showed a massive plunge in sales in August, while developers are on the brink, with the biggest, Country Garden, close to default. The firm on Thursday once again delayed a vote on its effort to avoid default, having the day before reported a record loss and warned it was struggling to stay in business.