Asian markets cautious amid uncertainty over global economy; Australia jobs data beat estimates

Asia stocks traded cautiously on Thursday morning amid uncertainty over the outlook for the global economy and the ongoing U.S.-China trade fight.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 slipped 0.17 percent in morning trade while the Topix index recovered from earlier losses to gain fractionally. Over in South Korea, on however, the Kospi rose more than 0.45 percent as shares of chipmaker SK Hynix jumped about 2.8 percent despite reporting quarterly earnings which were below expectations. The company attributed the profit decline — its first in two years — to lower chip prices.

Australia’s benchmark ASX 200 bounced higher by 0.21 percent with the energy sector adding more than 1.5 percent.

Australia released employment data that came in above expectations: there were 21,600 new jobs created in December, beating analysts’ expectations of 16,500. The unemployment rate also surpassed forecasts, coming in at 5.0 percent as compared to expectations of 5.1 percent.

“The key message here is Australia’s labor market is still looking quite strong,” Paul Bloxham, HSBC’s chief economist for Australia, New Zealand and global commodities, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” minutes after the data release.

“If you’re in Australia, there’s really no better time than now to be looking for a job,” Bloxham said. “There are more jobs out there as a proportion of the work force than ever before.”

The Australian dollar was at $0.7164 after touching an earlier low of $0.7135.

Overall, however, concerns remained over the state of U.S.-China trade negotiations following reports on Tuesday that the U.S. had canceled a trade meeting with Chinese officials. Speaking to CNBC, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow denied that report.

In overnight market action on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 171.14 points to close at 24,575.62, driven by stocks of companies that reported strong quarterly earnings while the broader market was little changed. The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent to finish its trading day at 2,638.70 while the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.1 percent to close at 7,025.77.

Wednesday’s move higher came after steep losses in the previous session. On Tuesday, the Dow snapped its four-day winning streak, closing down more than 300 points lower, as global growth fears added jitters to market sentiment.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.123 after seeing an earlier high above 96.3.

The Japanese yen, widely seen as a safe-haven currency, traded at 109.59 against the dollar after seeing lows around 109.9 yesterday.

— Reuters and CNBC’s Fred Imbert contributed to this report.

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