SEOUL, South Korea – Asian stock markets were lower Friday with Tokyo's index down more than 2 percent as caution prevailed before the release of the monthly U.S. jobs report and the resumption of trading on Chinese stock markets next week.
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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 tumbled 2.6 percent to 17,687.18 and South Korea's Kospi dropped 1.5 percent to 1,887.61. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.6 percent to 20,809.50 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.1 percent to 5,021.60. Stock markets in Southeast Asia also were lower.
US JOBS: The U.S. government issues the August jobs report on Friday, which could play a big role in whether the Federal Reserve decides to raise interest rates at its Sept. 16-17 meeting. Analysts are forecasting that employers produced a healthy increase of 220,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent. Record low interest rates since the 2008 financial crisis have been a boon for stock markets so investors await the jobs data and the Fed meeting with trepidation. In recent weeks, market expectations of a September rate hike have dimmed because of signs of weakness in the global economy.
ANALYST'S TAKE: The upcoming jobs report "may dictate some trader caution today," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. "The major risk appears to be if the outcome is a strong jobs number," he said in a market commentary. "Given that the Fed is comfortable with the broad trend of job growth, a strong number would improve the atmosphere for a September rate hike."
EUROPE WATCH: European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said Thursday the bank is ready to give the eurozone a bigger dose of stimulus should inflation across the 19-country bloc fail to pick up. Along with keeping interest rates low, the ECB is pumping 60 billion euros a month into the region's economy through purchases of government and corporate bonds. The program is slated to run at least through September 2016. Draghi also warned that slowing growth in emerging economies, especially China, is dragging on Europe's growth prospects.
CHINA WATCH: Chinese stock markets remained closed for a second day as the country marked the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II. After a summer of wild volatility in the Shanghai stock market and the surprise yuan devaluation, investors may be using the Chinese holidays to reduce exposure to stocks because they are uncertain about how China will perform on Monday, said Bernard Aw, a market strategist at IG in Singapore.
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WALL STREET: European markets rallied after the ECB's remarks but the U.S. stock markets failed to catch the wind, finishing slightly higher on Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average added 0.1 percent to 16,374.76. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.1 percent to 1,951.13. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.4 percent to 4,733.50.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil was down 59 cents to $46.16 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract closed at $46.75 a barrel on Thursday, up 50 cents. Brent Crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, lost 53 cents to $50.15 in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 119.35 yen from 120.12 yen in the previous trading session. The euro rose to $1.1128 from $1.1124.