Asian Shares Mixed, Led by Tokyo Gains, After Wall St. Rally

TOKYO (AP) -
Currency traders watch computer monitors near the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI), left, and the foreign exchange rate between U.S. dollar and South Korean won at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

Asian shares were mixed Thursday, cheered by the rally on Wall Street that’s likely a boon for export-driven regional economies, but investors remained worried about the coronanvirus pandemic.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 jumped 1.8% to finish at 23,249.61. South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.3% to 2,425.35. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.2% to 25,193.01, while the Shanghai Composite index was flat, at 3,319.42.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.7% to 6,091.00, despite better-than-expected unemployment data for July. The number of jobs added was more than forecast and the unemployment rate was 7.5%.

“So while this employment report is a broadly positive piece of economic data, the Australian labor market is still under severe stress following the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Robert Carnell, regional head of research for Asia-Pacific at ING.

Stocks marched broadly higher on Wall Street, briefly nudging the S&P 500 above its all-time closing high set in February before the pandemic led to a historic market plunge.

The S&P 500 rose 1.4% to 3,380.35. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1%, to 27,976.84. The Nasdaq composite, which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, climbed 2.1%, to 11,012.24. The Russell 2000 index of small company stocks picked up 0.5%, to 1,583.25.

The U.S. stock market is poised to erase the last of the losses taken after the coronavirus pandemic crushed the economy into recession, even though the economy is still hobbling despite some recent improvements. In March, the S&P 500 fell nearly 34% from its record.

Much of the rebound has been due to massive amounts of support from the Federal Reserve, which has slashed interest rates to nearly zero and propped up far-ranging corners of the bond market to keep the economy afloat. The ultra-low interest rates mean investors are getting paid very little to own bonds, which pushes some into stocks, boosting their prices.

Congress has also offered unprecedented amounts of aid, though it’s hit a seeming impasse in negotiations for a fresh stimulus spending package.

All that support has investors willing to look a few months or a year into the future, when a vaccine for the new coronavirus may become available, helping the economy return to normal. More importantly for stock prices, the expectation is that corporate profits will also rebound from their current coronavirus-caused hole.

On Wall Street, big tech-oriented giants like Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have been the year’s biggest winners, carrying the stock market through the pandemic despite the worries about the economy. They are expected to thrive regardless of whether people are quarantined or working from home. But some have been targeted in a worsening trade spat with Beijing.

Those tensions between the world’s largest economies have added to uncertainties. Trade officials from both sides are due to hold a virtual meeting Friday to discuss progress on a deal reached in January.

In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude slipped 15 cents to $42.52 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose $1.06 to $42.67 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude oil fell 16 cents to $45.27 a barrel.

The dollar inched down to 106.64 Japanese yen from 106.89 yen. The euro rose to $1.1832 from $1.1764.