Asia Markets

Asia stocks mixed as virus concerns weigh on sentiment; Australia's jobs data comes in above expectations

Key Points
  • Stocks in Asia were mixed on Thursday.
  • Australia's unemployment rate in March came in at 5.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to data from the country's bureau of statistics. That was better than expectations of a 5.5% unemployment rate for the month in a Reuters poll.
  • A report from the U.S. Commerce Department published Wednesday showed retail sales stateside in March plunging a record 8.7% — the largest one-month decline since the department began tracking the series in 1992.

Stocks in Asia were mixed on Thursday as concerns over the scale of the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic continued to weigh on sentiment.

The Nikkei 225 in Japan fell 1.33% to close at 19,290.20 shares of robot maker Fanuc declined 2.68%. The Topix index dropped 0.82% to end its trading day at 1,422.24. South Korea's Kospi closed flat at 1,857.07.

Mainland Chinese stocks edged higher on the day, with the Shanghai composite up 0.31% to around 2,819.94 while the Shenzhen composite gained 0.476% to about 1,744.39. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index dipped 0.51%, as of its final hour of trading.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.92% to close at 5,416.30 as shares of major banks such as Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac declined.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index slipped 0.61%.

On the economic data front, Australia's unemployment rate in March came in at 5.2% on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to data from the country's bureau of statistics. That was better than expectations of a 5.5% unemployment rate for the month in a Reuters poll.

Still, the Australian statistics bureau cautioned that the data on March employment covered just the first two weeks of the month — before lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus spread kicked in.

"The next print will include a large period of the shutdown," Kingsley Jones, founder and chief investment officer at Jevons Global, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Thursday.

"It's gonna be a bad month in April," Jones warned.

Investors have been watching recent economic data globally for clues to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Rodrigo Catril, senior foreign exchange strategist at National Australia Bank, wrote in a Thursday note that headlines surrounding the coronavirus pandemic "continue to paint a grim picture." Globally, more than 2 million people have been infected by the virus while at least 133,354 lives have been taken, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Overnight stateside, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 445.41 points to close at 23,504.35 while the S&P 500 ended its trading day 2.2% lower at 2,783.36. The Nasdaq Composite closed 1.4% lower at 8,393.18. Wednesday's moves marked the Dow and S&P 500's worst session since April 1.

The moves came as a report from the U.S. Commerce Department published Wednesday showed retail sales stateside in March plunging a record 8.7% — the largest one-month decline since it began tracking the series in 1992.

Oil prices were mixed in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures down 0.79% to $27.47 per barrel. U.S crude futures added 0.1% to $19.89 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 99.741 after seeing levels below 99.0 yesterday.

The Japanese yen traded at 107.81 per dollar, as compared to levels above 108 seen earlier in the week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6288 after declining from levels above $0.64 yesterday.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.

Correction: This report was updated to accurately reflect the moves of China's Shenzhen composite on Thursday afternoon.