Asia Markets

Japan shares drop more than 4% as investors await jobless claims data stateside

Key Points
  • Japanese shares led losses among the region's major markets as the Nikkei 225 dropped 4.51%.
  • Investors awaited the release of U.S. initial jobless claims data, expected to be out around 8:30 p.m. HK/SIN on Thursday, which could provide clues to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry said Thursday that the country's economy is now expected to shrink by between 1.0% and 4.0% this year. Official preliminary data showed Singapore's economy contracting 2.2% in the first quarter from a year ago.

Stocks in Asia were mixed on Thursday as investors awaited the release of U.S. jobless claims data expected later in the day stateside.

Shares in Japan led losses among the region's major markets, with the Nikkei 225 falling 4.51% to close at 18,664.60 as shares of index heavyweight Fast Retailing plunged 13.16% while the Topix index shed 1.78% to end its trading day at 1,399.32.

Mainland Chinese stocks slipped on the day, with the Shanghai composite 0.6% lower at about 2,764.91 and the Shenzhen composite shedding 0.799% to around 1,701.15. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index also slipped 0.72%, as of their final hour of trading.

South Korea's Kospi finished its trading day 1.09% lower at 1,686.24.

Meanwhile, the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 2.3% to close at 5,113.30.

In Southeast Asia, the Straits Times Index in Singapore fell 1.34%. Singapore Airlines requested for a trading halt pending an upcoming announcement by the carrier, according to an update on the Singapore Exchange website. That comes days after the airline said it will be "cutting 96% of the capacity that had been originally scheduled up to end-April." 

The country's Ministry of Trade and Industry said Thursday that the Singapore economy is now expected to shrink by between 1.0% and 4.0% this year. Official preliminary data showed Singapore's economy contracting 2.2% in the first quarter from a year ago.

"We were all being prepared for a bad print and these numbers are obviously not great, but given the degree to which we seeing such a significant shutdown of economic activity across the board not just in Singapore but elsewhere around the world, these are the sorts of numbers that we're gonna be seeing globally as data begins to start reflecting those constraints that we have to put on economies as we deal with the virus," Stephen Davies, CEO of Javelin Wealth Management, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

"Prepare ourselves for some bad data because it's certainly coming down the track," Davies warned.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index rose 0.79%.

Investors awaited the release of U.S. initial jobless claims data, expected to be out around 8:30 p.m. HK/SIN on Thursday, which could provide clues to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are now starting to get data prints that should begin the capture the new reality, on that score tonight's US Jobless claims is the big data release," Rodrigo Catril, senior foreign exchange strategist at National Australia Bank, wrote in a note.

"The US jobless claims figures for the week ending 21 March is expected to be very big, last week's claims printed at 281k and the median estimate for the 21 March number is 1.5m," Catril said. "There is a wide range of estimates out there — a couple of estimates as high as 4m and over a third of economist estimates above 2m."

Stocks of Apple suppliers in Asia were mixed on Thursday. In Japan, Taiyo Yuden shares fell 3.75% while Murata Manufacturing slipped 4.97%. Over in Taiwan, Hon Hai Precision Industry (also known as Foxconn) dipped 0.56%. Hong Kong-listed shares of AAC Technologies gained 5.47%, as of their final hour of trading.

The moves came after the Cupertino-based tech giant's stock fell overnight following a Nikkei Asian Review report that the company considered delaying its annual iPhone launch by months.

The U.S. dollar index, which track the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 100.862 after seeing levels above 102 earlier in the week.

The Japanese yen traded at 110.38 per dollar after touching an earlier low of 111.30. The Australian dollar was at $0.5931 after declining from levels above $0.6 yesterday.

Oil prices were lower in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 1.86% to $26.88 per barrel. U.S. crude futures also slipped 3.02% to $23.75 per barrel.