Asia stocks drop in wake of tepid US hiring

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets sagged Monday after a disappointing U.S. jobs report sparked worries about the health of the world’s biggest economy.

The U.S. economy added 162,000 jobs in July, about 20,000 less than expected, while gains for the previous two months were revised down, the Labor Department said Friday. And most of the gains came from lower-paying industries or part-time work.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo fell 1.1 percent to 14,310.16 as the dollar hovered below 100 yen. A stronger yen makes Japanese products more expensive overseas and can hurt companies whose survival hinges on exports.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.2 percent 5,108.40 as traders waited for the Reserve Bank of Australia’s monthly interest rate decision on Tuesday and the release of employment figures for July on Thursday.

Investors showed little reaction to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s decision to call elections on Sept. 7. Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia said the local stock market was much more focused on whether the central bank would raise interest rates Tuesday.

“Monetary policy is carrying more weight at the moment,” Shamu said.

It’s the same case with global stocks, which have been keenly focused on the U.S. Federal Reserve’s massive economic stimulus program, Shamu said. Expectations were for the Fed to start phasing out the program in September, but the tepid employment figures could lead the Fed to stick with the program longer.

South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.4 percent to 1,916.13. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 0.2 percent to 22,232.60. Benchmarks in mainland China, New Zealand and Taiwan rose. Singapore and Thailand fell.

While the U.S. jobs report wasn’t encouraging, it did make it more likely that the Fed would take its time cutting back on its stimulus program.

The Fed has already stated its intention to eventually reduce the current $85 billion worth of bond purchases it makes every month. The Fed has been pumping money into the U.S. economy for over four years in an effort to keep interest rates down and help boost the economy. The program has been a boon to stocks, where investors have fled in search of higher returns.

Among individual stocks, Virgin Australia Holdings fell 4 percent after the airline said it expected annual losses of between $95 million and $110 million due to competition, a difficult economy, carbon taxes and restructuring costs. Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics Corp. rose 0.5 percent after announcing it will shut down three domestic production plants as part of a restructuring, Kyodo News reported.

Benchmark crude for September delivery was up 16 cents to $107.10 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 95 cents to close at $106.94 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the euro rose slightly to $1.3275 from $1.3274 late Friday. The dollar fell to 98.78 yen from 98.90 yen.

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