Asian Markets Mostly Higher

Asian stock markets are mostly higher on Friday following the following the overnight gains on Wall Street after the U.S. Senate finally voted to approve a massive $2 trillion stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The news offset negative sentiment after a report by the U.S. Labor Department showed a spike in first-time jobless claims for the week ended March 21. Meanwhile, the U.S. now has the most number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, overtaking China.

The Australian market opened higher, but has reversed early gains and slipped into negative territory.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 140.80 points or 2.75 percent to 4,972.50, after rising to a high of 5,236.70 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is lower by 136.10 points or 2.65 percent to 4,999.10. Australian stocks closed higher for a third straight day on Thursday.

Among the major miners, Rio Tinto is advancing more than 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is adding 0.2 percent, while BHP is edging down 0.1 percent.

In the banking sector, ANZ Banking and National Australia Bank are rising more than 2 percent each, while Westpac and Commonwealth Bank are adding more than 1 percent each.

In the oil space, Oil Search is climbing more than 9 percent, Woodside Petroleum is advancing more than 1 percent and Santos is adding 0.5 percent, even as crude oil prices tumbled overnight.

Woodside Petroleum said it will cut spending by 50 percent and defer investment decisions on major projects amid the uncertain economic climate due to the spread of COVID-19. The company also lowered its earnings outlook for fiscal 2020.

Bucking the trend, gold miners are lower even as safe-haven gold prices advanced overnight. Evolution Mining is losing more than 3 percent and Newcrest Mining is down 0.4 percent.

Woolworths Group said it will create 20,000 new jobs to meet a surge in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, joining rival Coles Group which earlier this month said it would add 5,000 jobs. The supermarket chain’s shares are down 0.6 percent.

Shares of Adairs are gaining more than 8 percent after the homewares trader said it will temporarily close stores in Australia for four to six weeks after trade on Sunday.

Kathmandu Holdings, which has about 170 stores in Australia as well as New Zealand, and more than 100 Rip Curl stores, also said it will shut stores and stand down about 2,000 workers without pay for four weeks due to COVID-19. The clothing chain’s shares are rising almost 3 percent.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar was higher against the U.S. dollar on Friday. The local unit was quoted at $0.6056, compared to $0.5914 on Thursday.

The Japanese market opened sharply higher, but has pared strong gains and is now up just more than 1 percent.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is advancing 278.29 points or 1.49 percent to 18,942.89, after touching a high of 19,366.29 in early trades. Japanese stocks closed sharply lower on Thursday.

Meanwhile, market heavyweight SoftBank is adding 0.3 percent and Fast Retailing is advancing almost 1 percent.

The major exporters are higher despite a stronger yen. Mitsubishi Electric is higher by more than 3 percent, Sony is gaining almost 3 percent, Panasonic is rising more than 2 percent and Canon is adding 0.2 percent.

In the tech space, Advantest is higher by more than 4 percent and Tokyo Electron is advancing almost 4 percent.

In the oil sector, Inpex is up 0.2 percent, while Japan Petroleum is declining 0.2 percent after crude oil prices tumbled overnight.

Among the other major gainers, Cyberagent and Ricoh are gaining more than 7 percent each, while Tokyo Gas and Hino Motors are rising almost 7 percent each.

In economic news, the Ministry of Communications and Internal Affairs said that overall consumer prices in the Tokyo region of Japan were up 0.4 percent on year in March. That exceeded expectations for an increase of 0.3 percent and was unchanged from the February reading.

Core CPI, which excludes volatile food prices, also advanced an annual 0.4 percent. That was in line with expectations and down from 0.5 percent in the previous month.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 108 yen-range on Thursday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesia is rising almost 7 percent and Singapore is rising more than 2 percent. Shanghai, South Korea, Hong Kong and Malaysia are all advancing more than 1 percent each, while Taiwan is modestly higher. Meanwhile, New Zealand is declining more than 1 percent.

On Wall Street, stocks closed sharply higher on Thursday even though the Labor Department released a report before the start of trading showing first-time claims for unemployment benefits soared to 3.28 million last week from 282,000 in the prior week, as large swaths of the U.S. economy were shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Any negative sentiment seemed to have been offset by news that the Senate finally voted to approve a massive $2 trillion stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dow spiked 1,351.62 points or 6.4 percent to 22,552.17, the Nasdaq soared 413.24 points or 5.6 percent to 7,797.54 and the S&P 500 skyrocketed 154.51 points or 6.2 percent to 2,630.07.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned positive over the course of the session on Thursday. While the German DAX Index jumped by 1.3 percent, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index and the French CAC 40 Index surged up by 2.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

Crude oil prices closed sharply lower on Thursday for the first time in four sessions, as concerns about outlook for energy demand weighed on the commodity. WTI crude for May ended down $1.89 or about 7.7 percent at $22.60 a barrel.

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