Holiday-hit Asian markets mixed, Wall St record fails to inspire
Asian shares were mixed in holiday-thinned trade Friday as investors struggled to build on another record-setting day on Wall Street, with focus on the upcoming release of key US inflation data.
US equities have continued their march higher this week as strong earnings from big-name firms and data showing resilience in the world's number one economy helped overcome Federal Reserve warnings that interest rates will not come down as early as hoped.
Figures released Thursday showing below-expectation US jobless claims reinforced the view that the labour market remained in good health despite interest rates sitting at two-decade highs, but gave the central bank room to hold borrowing costs where they are for longer.
Revisions to the consumer price index due Friday will be pored over and followed by new data for January, with an above-forecast reading seen as justifying the monetary policymakers' reluctance to cut just yet.
Richmond Fed president Thomas Barkin joined several of his counterparts Thursday in urging patience on cutting rates, adding that "no one wants inflation to re-emerge".
He said the healthy run of data on the economy -- particularly the labour market -- had given the bank time to become confident that the slowdown in inflation is assured.
"For now the claims stats continue to suggest there are no firing pressures emerging in the US labour market," said National Australia Bank's Rodrigo Catril.
However, he warned: "That said many US commentators note that there is a meaningful risk claims will rise over coming months, amid a burst in layoff announcements (including from Deloitte, Amazon and Tesla, among others)."
Wall Street's three main indexes eked out fresh gains, with the S&P 500 breaking 5,000 points for the first time towards the end of trade, before edging back but still finishing at an all-time high.
With much of Asia either closed or enjoying half days as a long Lunar New Year weekend approaches, trading activity was limited.
That saw Hong Kong tumble again, at the end of a volatile week in which the Hang Seng Index surged on China's pledges of market support, and then retreat owing to a lack of detail from officials. Singapore and Wellington also fell.
Tokyo rose on a weaker yen and a soaring SoftBank after the firm reported strong earnings. Sydney was also up.
Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei and Jakarta were closed for holidays.
While China is now in holiday mode, investors are keeping tabs on Beijing, hoping for fresh measures to boost market confidence or even hints of growth-driving help for the country's stuttering economy.
News that consumer prices fell at their sharpest pace since 2009 added to the gloom, and ramped up pressure on officials to address the crisis head-on with a big-time "bazooka" stimulus package.
However, observers were sceptical that anything major would be forthcoming.
Analysts at Eurasia Group said the replacement of the chairman of China's markets regulator "demonstrates that the political impulse remains to tighten administrative controls rather than address fundamental problems facing the economy.
The move "entrenches the sense of malaise and weighs on confidence".
Stephen Innes at SPI Asset Management added: "There is growing consensus that the central government must take decisive action... to address China's economic challenges. Urgent action is needed to restore confidence and stimulate economic growth."
Key figures around 0230 GMT
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 37,029.91 (break)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng Index: DOWN 1.6 percent at 15,632.60
Shanghai - Composite: Closed for a holiday
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 149.28 yen from 149.30 yen on Thursday
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0778 from $1.0781
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2622 from $1.2620
Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.38 pence from 85.40 pence
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 0.1 percent at $76.14 per barrel
Brent North Sea Crude: DOWN 0.2 percent at $81.50 per barrel
New York - Dow: UP 0.1 percent at 38,726.33 (close)
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.4 percent at 7,595.48 (close)