Asian markets edged lower in limited holiday trade Monday after weaker-than-expected US jobs data hit market sentiment while rising inflation in China also weighed on investors.
A stronger yen — which rose after figures showed Japan swung back to a current account surplus in February from a record deficit in the previous month — took a toll on Japanese exporters’ shares.
Tokyo fell 1.47 percent, or 142.19 points, to 9,546.26, Seoul was 1.57 percent, or 31.95 points, lower at 1,997.08 and Taipei dropped 1.37 percent, or 105.39 points, to 7,600.87.
Shanghai closed down 0.90 percent, or 20.77 points, to 2,285.78.
Markets in Hong Kong, Manila, Sydney, Wellington and Bangkok were closed for public holidays.
The US Labor Department reported Friday that the number of unemployed workers hovered close to 13 million and hiring slowed, a warning sign that an economic recovery in the world’s biggest economy may be in trouble.
Economists had expected the economy to power ahead in March and create upwards of 200,000 jobs, amid signs that the recovery is finally becoming self-sustaining after a sluggish improvement from the worst recession in decades.
But the Labor Department figures showed that the economy only pumped out 120,000 jobs last month, although the unemployment rate did dip from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent — a three-year low.
The “disappointing employment data certainly re-opens the door for the market to consider further accommodation down the road from the Fed”, Barclays said in a note to clients, referring to monetary easing by the US central bank.
“This makes US economic data in the lead-up to the Fed’s June meeting important for the US dollar’s prospects.”
Shares in Japanese exporters were hit by a stronger yen.
The Japanese currency got a boost after official figures Monday said the country’s current account registered a surplus in February thanks to a stronger US economy, reversing a record deficit in January.
China’s consumer price index, the main gauge of inflation, hit 3.6 percent in March from 3.2 percent in February, raising fears that Beijing may slow the pace of monetary easing.
“CPI was mainly pushed up by food prices, which resulted from an undersupply of vegetables due to relatively cold weather in March,” Li Huiyong, a Shanghai-based analyst at Shenyin Wanguo Securities, told AFP.
“We think the downward trend will likely be unchanged, with the CPI bottoming out in July this year.”
Premier Wen Jiabao, speaking at the opening of the annual session of parliament in March, warned consumer prices remained high and said the government’s aim was to keep inflation within four percent this year.
Investors will likely continue to take a wait-and-see approach ahead of the release of more Chinese economic data later this week, including gross domestic product figures and industrial production, said Matsui Securities market analyst Tomoichiro Kubota.
US and major European markets were closed for the Good Friday holiday, with many European bourses also closed on Monday.
Oil prices slid in Asian trade following the disappointing US jobs data.
New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate crude for delivery in May, shed $1.11 to $102.20 per barrel. Brent North Sea crude for May settlement was down $1.00 at $122.43 in the afternoon.
The European single currency was changing hands at $1.3063 and 106.34 yen Monday, slipping from $1.3070 and 107.53 yen in Tokyo trade on Friday. The dollar was at 81.52 yen, down from 82.27 yen.
Gold was at $1,640.30 an ounce at 1035 GMT, compared with $1,629.40 late Friday.
In other markets:
-- Singapore fell 0.87 percent, or 26.10 points, to 2,960.10.
Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp shed 0.79 percent to Sg$8.75 while vehicle distributor Jardine Cycle and Carriage was down 1.49 percent to Sg$48.21.
-- Kuala Lumpur edged 0.43 percent, or 6.93 points, lower to 1,591.94.
Financial firm CIMB Group Holdings lost 0.3 percent to 7.72 ringgit, while plantation company Sime Darby inched down 0.1 percent to 9.85. Telekom Malaysia added 0.2 percent to 5.38 ringgit.
-- Jakarta fell 0.3 percent, or 12.31 points, to 4154.07.
Bank Mandiri declined 1.4 percent to 6,950 rupiah, while cement maker Semen Gresik slipped 1.2 percent to 11,900 rupiah and tin miner Timah shed 1.6 percent to 1,800 rupiah.
-- Mumbai dropped 1.51 percent, or 263.88 points, to 17,222.14.
Sterlite, the local arm of global resources firm Vedanta, fell 4.34 percent to 105.8 rupees while the country’s largest private aluminium producer Hindalco fell 5.18 percent to 126.2.