Asia-Pacific Shares Struggle for Gains in ‘Fragile' Environment, Brent Holds Above $70

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  • Asia-Pacific markets struggled for gains Monday as major indexes in Japan, South Korea, China, and Hong Kong declined.
  • Oil prices jumped as international benchmark Brent topped $70 a barrel after Saudi Arabia said its oil facilities were targeted by missiles and drones on Sunday.
  • The session followed a wild day in U.S. markets last Friday, where stocks roared back from a sharp sell-off as a stronger-than-expected U.S. jobs report fueled optimism for a quicker economic recovery.

SINGAPORE — Asia-Pacific markets struggled for gains by Monday afternoon as investors reacted to last week's U.S. jobs report that trounced expectations and fueled hopes for a faster economic recovery.

Australian shares finished the session in green but retraced most of their earlier gains. The benchmark ASX 200 rose 0.43% to 6,739.60 as most sectors traded higher, with the heavily-weighted financials subindex adding 0.5%. Major banking and mining stocks mostly rose: Shares of Commonwealth Bank jumped 1.01% while Rio Tinto added 2.91%, Fortescue was up 0.5% and BHP gained 2.38%.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 reversed gains to close down 0.42% at 28,743.25 as banking stocks advanced. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group shares gained 2.83%, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group added 2.14% and Nomura shares were up 3.17%. Elsewhere, the Topix index also gave up earlier gains to finish 0.14% lower to 1,893.58.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Kospi tumbled 1% to 2,996.11. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 1.85% in late-afternoon trade while the Hang Seng Tech index tumbled 6.69%.

Chinese mainland shares also fell: The Shanghai composite declined 2.3% to 3,421.41 while the Shenzhen component lost 3.81% to 13,863.81. Elsewhere, shares in India and Singapore rose in afternoon trade.

Monday's session in Asia-Pacific followed a wild day in U.S. markets last Friday, where stocks roared back from a sharp sell-off as a stronger-than-expected nonfarm payrolls report improved optimism for a quicker economic recovery.

"Investors remain wary of the impact that the massive Biden fiscal experiment will have on longer-term interest rates, making for a fragile equity environment," analysts at ANZ Research said in a morning note on Monday. "That defensiveness may prevail into the mid-March (Federal Open Market Committee) meeting."

U.S. relief package

The U.S. Senate passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package over the weekend that includes direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans. The bill is expected to pass in the Democratic-held House this week and sent to President Joe Biden for his signature before a March 14 deadline to renew unemployment aid programs.

Last month, Fed Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers that the U.S. economy was a long way from its employment and inflation goals and that it will likely take time for substantial further progress to be achieved. He said that inflation is still "soft" and that the Fed was committed to current policy, which implied interest rates are likely to remain low for now.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar climbed 0.19% against a basket of its peers to 92.155, from an earlier low around 91.842.

Elsewhere, the Japanese yen changed hands at 108.47 per dollar while the Australian dollar reversed earlier gains to trade down 0.13% at $0.7676.

Oil prices eased back slightly after registering more than 2% gains during Asian trading hours on Monday. U.S. crude futures rose 1.42% to $67.03 a barrel and global benchmark Brent held above the $70-level, adding 1.49% to $70.39.

Saudi Arabia said that its oil facilities were targeted by missiles and drones on Sunday. A Houthi military spokesman claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Last week, OPEC and its oil-producing allies said the group would keep production largely steady through April while Saudi Arabia had added that it would extend its one million barrels per day voluntary production cut into next month.

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