By Shinichi Saoshiro
Asian stocks were subdued on Friday and the dollar wobbled ahead of the closely watched U.S. jobs report, which could provide clues on the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy outlook.
Spreadbetters expected the cautious mood to prevail in Europe, forecasting a flat to slightly lower open for Britain’s FTSE, Germany’s DAX and France’s CAC.
Shanghai stocks, crawled up 0.2 percent and Australian shares dipped 0.1 percent. Japan’s Nikkei underperformed, dropping 1.4 percent and headed for its fourth straight day of losses.
“The biggest concern for the Japanese market now is whether the dollar will weaken against the yen further,” said Yutaka Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.
“You don’t know how U.S. stocks will perform after the jobs data release, so most investors are nervous.”
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng drew cues from an overnight Wall Street bounce and rose 0.8 percent, while other gainers included Malaysian and Singapore shares.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.5 percent. The index was still on track to end the week roughly unchanged.
The dollar remained firmly on the back foot after being hit this week by lacklustre economic data and dovish comments from some Fed officials that curtailed expectations of a near-term U.S. interest rate hike.
The dollar stood little changed at 116.745 yen after sinking 1 percent overnight. The greenback, which soared close to 122 yen recently, was heading for a 3.5 percent loss on the week. It was poised to hand back all the gains made on the Bank of Japan’s surprise decision last Friday to adopt negative interest rates.
The euro dipped 0.2 percent to $1.1188, trimming some of the gains from Thursday’s surge. The common currency was headed for a 3.3 percent gain on the week, its biggest in more than four years.
The markets will look to the U.S. jobs data for direction, with the employment report expected to show employers adding 190,000 jobs in January, the median estimate of 108 economists polled by Reuters.
“Markets seem so determined to price out the risk of a Fed rate hike any time soon that it is hard to imagine a January U.S. employment outcome strong enough to reignite pricing for March or June,” wrote Sean Callow, a senior strategist at Westpac.
“Even after the US dollar’s sharp fall in recent days, there still seems to be greater scope for a USD fall on a weak reading than for a rally on a strong outcome.”
The dollar index stood at 96.640 after stooping to 96.259 overnight, its lowest since late October.
U.S. crude was up 0.2 percent at $31.79 a barrel, enroute for a 5.4 percent weekly loss. Crude has been volatile this week, boosted momentarily by a weaker dollar but also continuing to face downward pressure from concerns towards a slowing global economy crimping demand.
Brent crude was down 0.2 percent at $34.41 a barrel, poised to end the week down 1 percent.
Spot gold hovered near a 3-month high of $1,157.20 an ounce , having soared this week on diminished prospects of the Fed raising rates soon. Higher interest rates would in theory reduce the appeal of non-yielding gold.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange slipped 0.5 percent to $4,662 a tonne. But the industrial metal was still headed for a third week of gains as a weaker dollar nudged traders to close positions ahead of China’s Lunar Year holidays next week.
A weaker greenback tends to lift the appeal of dollar-denominated commodities like oil and copper in the eyes of non U.S. buyers.