Asian stock markets were mostly lower Monday as investors shifted their focus from Europe’s debt woes to the strength of the U.S. economy. Japan sold the yen to limit its export-sapping strength.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 1.1 percent to 19,791.74 and South Korea’s Kospi fell 1 percent to 1,910.94. Benchmarks in Australia, mainland China, Singapore and Taiwan also posted losses.
The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo swung between positive and negative territory after Japan intervened to weaken its currency, which had earlier hit a new post World War II high against the greenback. The Nikkei was 0.2 percent lower at 9,021.08 in afternoon trading.
The strong yen has dented earnings of Japanese corporations such as Nintendo Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. and hurt the economy’s recovery from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Finance Minister Jun Azumi said monetary authorities could continue intervening.
The dollar surged about 5 percent to above 79 yen, and Japan’s export sector _ whose fortunes are largely tied to the relative strength of the yen _ rose abruptly.
Isuzu Motors Corp. jumped 4.3 percent. Canon Inc. rose 1.7 percent and Nikon Corp. added 2.3 percent. Nintendo Co. gained 3.6 percent.
In Sydney, shares of Australian flag carrier Qantas Airways Ltd. jumped 4.3 percent after a court ordered employees of the world’s 10th-largest airlines back to work. The airline had grounded its entire fleet on Saturday following weeks of strikes by its workers, but an arbitration court on Sunday ordered an end to the strikes and canceled the staff lockout.
Last week, investors were cheered by the debt crisis deal reached by European leaders. European banks were asked to take a 50 percent loss on their holdings of Greek government bonds. They will also set aside more money to cushion against future losses. Leaders also pledged to expand the European Union’s bailout fund.
But economists caution that many details in the plan still have to be worked out, including the difficult task of deciding who will pay for it.
“With more questions than answers markets will be hungry for further details over coming weeks and until then it is difficult to see risk appetite stretching too far,” analysts at Credit Agricole CIB wrote in a research note.
This week, investors will likely turn their attention to the U.S.
A key jobs report for October, a Federal Reserve policy meeting and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s quarterly news conference are all due.
“This month is going to be another watershed insight into whether we are looking at a low growth environment or something worse,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “To maintain the low growth environment view, the market is going to want to see positive employment growth.”
A report Thursday showed that the U.S. economy expanded at a solid 2.5 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter. That helped ease concerns that another recession might be nearing.
But while the economy is growing, it may not be enough to generate many jobs. The U.S. unemployment rate has been stuck at 9.1 percent for three months. Analysts expect roughly 100,000 jobs to be added in October. Anything less could raise concerns that the economy may slow.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.4034 from $1.4170 on Friday in New York. The dollar sprinted to 79.18 yen from 75.76 yen.
Benchmark crude for December delivery was down 96 cents at $92.36 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 64 cents to settle at $93.32 in New York on Friday.