Asia stocks waver ahead of US jobs report that will put Fed stimulus decision in new light

Energy Associated Press

Asian stock markets wavered between gains and losses Thursday as investors awaited a U.S. jobs report that might deliver a verdict on whether the Federal Reserve's withdrawal of stimulus was warranted.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average erased gains to end down 0.9 percent to 16,792.48 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.1 percent to 23,669.93. South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent to 1,936.48 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.2 percent to 5,506.10. Markets in Southeast Asia were mostly higher.

JOBS REPORT: A strong report on U.S. hiring from payrolls processor ADP suggested Friday's official monthly employment figures will show robust employment growth. If that is the case, it will allay lingering worries that the Fed's recent decision to withdraw its extraordinary stimulus, provided through a massive program of bond buying, was premature. Intended to spur economic recovery after the global recession, the stimulus helped markets defy gravity even in the face of poor company earnings or bad economic news.

THE QUOTE: "Friday's jobs report will be of great interest to assess the psychology of the market," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. The Federal Reserve's "safety net isn't there anymore and fundamentals should matter more now," he said. "A poor number will really paint a clearer picture about whether the market is ready to revert to a more traditional stance and potentially sell-off on bad news and rally on good news."

WALL STREET: Stocks returned to record levels on Wednesday as a rebound in oil prices boosted energy stocks. The stock market also gained after the completion of midterm elections that saw Republicans take control of the Senate. The S&P 500 rose 11.47 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,023.57. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 100.69 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,484.53. The Nasdaq composite fell two points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 4,620.72.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was down 8 cents at $78.61 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It swooned earlier in the week on reports that Saudi Arabia was cutting prices for U.S.-bound crude. On Wednesday, oil rebounded on a smaller-than-expected increase in overall U.S. supplies.

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CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 114.49 yen from 114.62 yen late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.2504 from $1.2487.