Wed, February 21, 2024

Asian shares mixed in scant New Year Eve trading

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BANGKOK: Shares were mixed in Asia on Friday after a late slide pulled major indexes into the red on Wall Street, leaving the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average slightly below record highs. Tokyo and many other regional markets were closed. A survey released Friday showed Chinese factory activity edged higher in December as supply disruptions eased and export demand weakened. The monthly purchasing managers' index issued by the national statistics agency and an industry group gained to 50.3 from November's 50.1 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 show activity accelerating. Hong Kong jumped 1.2% in New Year's Eve trading to 23,397.67 and the Shanghai Composite index gained 0.5% to 3,638.24. Sydney lost 0.9% to 7,444.60 as the number of new coronavirus cases in some parts of Australia surged. India's Sensex rose 0.7%, while Singapore and Malaysia edged lower. 2021 was a mixed year for Asian markets. Some benchmarks, like the Hang Seng in Hong Kong which has suffered from troubles in China's property sector and US-Chinese friction, have languished. Others, like Tokyo's Nikkei 225 and the Shanghai Composite index, have gyrated but held relatively steady. India's Sensex, meanwhile, breached new record highs despite a severe wave of COVID-19 in the spring. On Thursday, the benchmark S&P 500 gave up 0.3% and the Dow and the Nasdaq each fell 0.2%. Trading was relatively quiet with many investors having closed out their positions for the year. Investors will likely not make any large moves until next week with the start of the New Year, though in China end-of-year window dressing may have pushed prices higher. On Thursday, the S&P 500 index slipped 0.3% a day after notching a record high, closing at 4,778.73. The Dow, which also set a new high Wednesday, fell 0.2% to 36,398.08. The Nasdaq also slipped 0.2%, to 15,741.56. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks slipped less than 0.1% to 2,248.79. Major US stock indexes are on pace to end December with solid gains, capping a banner year for the market. The S&P 500 is headed for a gain of more than 27% for 2021, the best performance since 2019, another standout year. A wave of consumer demand fueled by the reopening of economies pumped up corporate profits more than expected this year, which helped keep investors in a buying mood. The Federal Reserve and other central banks also helped, by keeping interest rates low, which makes borrowing money more affordable for companies and consumers. Plenty of economic challenges persists, including rising inflation, global supply chain disruptions and outbreaks of more contagious variants of the COVID-19 virus. Investor concerns about the omicron variant, which is spreading fast and quickly becoming the dominant coronavirus variant, have eased in recent weeks after researchers said it appears to cause less severe symptoms. Technology companies accounted for a big share of Wall Street's late-afternoon slide. Micron Technology led the sector decline, dropping 2.4% after disclosing that its memory chip output has been hindered by lockdown in the Chinese city of Xi'an intended to contain a coronavirus outbreak. Investors got a couple bits of good news. The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell below 200,000, more evidence that the job market remains strong in the aftermath of last year's coronavirus recession. Wall Street will get the December jobs report next week. Meanwhile, the Chicago Purchasing Manager Index, a gauge of manufacturing and economic activity, came in at 63.1 for December. That's slightly better than the reading of 62.0 that economists were expecting, according to FactSet. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged lower to 1.51% from 1.54% the day before. In other trading, US benchmark crude oil lost 42 cents to $76.57 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It picked up 43 cents to $76.99 per barrel on Thursday. Brent crude oil, the basis for pricing international oils, lost 38 cents to $79.15 per barrel. The US dollar rose to 115.09 Japanese yen from 115.08 yen. The euro edged up to $1.1327 from $1.1326.
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