Asia stocks in holding pattern before jobs report

Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets were in a holding pattern Friday as investors awaited a U.S. jobs report that could solidify expectations about when the Federal Reserve will start reducing its expansive stimulus.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average rose 0.1 percent to 15,194.77 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.2 percent to 23,661.52. China's Shanghai Composite dropped 0.6 percent to 2,233.30 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.2 percent to 5,190.40.

Benchmarks in Taiwan, South Korea and India gained slightly while Southeast Asian markets fell.

Belief that the Fed will decide to begin "tapering" its $85 billion in monthly asset purchases at its Dec. 18 meeting ratcheted up after the U.S. government reported that the U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 3.6 percent in the third quarter, its fastest pace since the first quarter of 2012.

A 23,000 fall in weekly U.S. jobless claims to 298,000 also added to the evidence that the U.S. economy is growing strongly and that the stimulus, which has kept interest rates low to spur recovery, will be reduced. Whether those expectations remain intact could hinge on Friday's official jobs report for November. Economists are forecasting that employers added 180,000 jobs last month, according to a survey by FactSet.

"U.S. data has been fairly robust this week and judging by the fact the S&P 500 has closed lower for the past five days, there is increased expectations for a solid number in today's U.S. payrolls report," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia.

Earlier this year, fears of the stimulus withdrawal had caused jitters in the markets as the monetary injection has helped to shore up stocks for several years. Recently, though, the reaction has been more muted amid the realization that it's predicated on an improving economic outlook.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell for a fifth straight day on Thursday after the encouraging news on the economy prompted investors to speculate that the Fed is getting closer to reducing its stimulus. The Dow fell 68.28 points, or 0.4 percent, to 15,821.51. The Standard & Poor's 500 dropped 7.78 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,785.03. The Nasdaq composite declined 4.84 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,033.16.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery was up 8 cents at $97.46 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 18 cents to close at $97.38 on Friday.

The euro fell to $1.3661 from $1.3667 late Thursday. The dollar rose to 102.03 yen from 101.82 yen.