Asian Shares Mixed as Investors Watch Talks on U.S. Stimulus

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A currency trader wearing a face mask stands near screens showing the foreign exchange rates at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Stocks were mixed in Asia on Thursday despite strong gains overnight on Wall Street, where the rally just kept on rolling. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Stocks were mixed in Asia on Thursday as investors watched to see if lawmakers will come ahead with fresh stimulus for a U.S. economy struggling with shutdowns as new coronavirus outbreaks flare.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index shed 0.4% to 22,418.15 while the Shanghai Composite index gave up 0.5% to 3,362.32. Hong Kong lost 1.4% to 24,746.30.

South Korea’s Kospi added 1.1% to 2,337.05 after Samsung Electronics, the country’s biggest company, unveiled three new models of smartphones it hopes will revive its sinking sales.

Samsung’s shares rose 1.8%.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.5% to 6,031.00, lifted by strong gains in commodity prices on expectations that China’s economy is on the mend after the country largely recovered from the pandemic.

The S&P 500 index logged its fourth straight gain on Wednesday, pulling within 1.7% of the record high it set in February. It picked up 0.6% to 3,327.77 as negotiators on Capitol Hill reported some progress in talks for more support for the economy as pressure mounts for quicker action.

Overall, “stocks remain underpinned by optimism over the coronavirus relief bill. Democrats and the White House are inching closer to a deal, and the market remains cheery an agreement can be signed off by the end of the week,” Stephen Innes of AxiCorp said in a commentary.

A report released Wednesday suggested that U.S. hiring was far weaker last month than economists expected. Private employers added just 167,000 jobs, according to a survey by payroll processor ADP, well below the 1.2 million that economists had forecast.

Rising caseloads of the coronavirus remain a concern, however, with officials in Spain warning of a relapse while numbers continue to mount in the U.S.

In Hong Kong, authorities reported 85 newly confirmed cases, almost all of them untraceable or locally transmitted. In Japan, the governor of Aichi prefecture, where Toyota Motor Corp. has its headquarters, declared a state of emergency, saying newly confirmed cases have been rising by more than 100 daily. Before that, daily cases had been zero for extended periods.

Gov. Hideaki Ohmura told reporters businesses are being asked to close altogether or close early, and people are being asked to stay home at night, to prevent infections from spreading.

The requests continue through Aug. 24, a period that coincides with Japanese Obon holidays, when schools and many companies close.

Congress and White House officials are negotiating on more aid for an economy that’s shown some improvement but is still hobbling.

Investors say such a package is crucial and needs to arrive quickly, with millions of Americans still out of work and $600 in weekly unemployment benefits from the U.S. government having recently expired.

A more comprehensive jobs report from the Labor Department is due Friday.

Corporate results have turned out to be slightly better than expected with S&P 500 companies on track to report a roughly 34% drop in earnings per share from a year earlier, according to FactSet.

Investors are betting that the plunge in profits will prove to be only temporary and that earnings will recover as economies reopen and a vaccine might be developed, helping the world get closer to normal.

Treasury yields rose, reclaiming some of their lost ground from a day before when they sank to a nearly five-month low. The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged higher to 0.55% from 0.54% late Wednesday.

Yields have remained very low as investors have continued to worry about the weak economy and as the Federal Reserve has unleashed massive amounts of stimulus.

Gold rose even further into record territory, continuing its strong climb since the spring amid nervousness about the economy and super-low interest rates. Gold for delivery in December, the most actively traded contract, rose $13.00 to $2,062.30 per ounce.

Benchmark U.S. crude added 20 cents to $42.39 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, added 34 cents to $45.51 a barrel.

In currency dealings, the U.S. dollar edged lower to 105.44 Japanese yen from 105.58 yen. The euro rose to $1.1899 from $1.1868.