Asian markets faced a gloomy session on Thursday as persistent worries about a Chinese economic slowdown weighed on sentiment. Meanwhile, Japanese stocks plummeted sharply following discussions by Bank of Japan Governor Kazuo Ueda about potential options for pivoting away from negative interest rates.
Chinese Bluechips Near 5-Year Low, Trade Data Offers Little Cheer
Chinese markets continued to underperform their Asian counterparts, with the blue-chip Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 index sinking 0.5% to a nearly five-year low. The Shanghai Composite lost 0.5%, trading at an over one-month low, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slid 1.9% to a 13-month low.
Trade data for November painted a subdued picture of the Chinese economy. Although the country’s trade surplus exceeded expectations due to a mild recovery in exports, an unexpected decline in imports suggested that local demand remained weak.
Sentiment towards China took a hit earlier in the week when Moody’s threatened a credit rating downgrade. The ratings agency raised concerns about increased risks to the economy from a potential property market meltdown and a lack of clear policy support from the government.
Japan’s Nikkei Sinks as Ueda Flags Challenging Times, Pivot Options
Japan’s Nikkei 225 index experienced a 1.6% decline as Bank of Japan Governor Kazuo Ueda warned of an “even more challenging situation” in December and January. Discussions over potential options for pulling interest rates from record lows fueled expectations that the BOJ might end its ultra-loose policies in 2024
Ueda, however, emphasized the need for dovish policy in the near term, citing potential weakness in the Japanese economy. The potential pivot signals the end of nearly a decade of easy monetary policy that has contributed to the stellar rally of Japanese stocks this year.
Broader Asian Markets React to Weak Cues
Broader Asian markets followed weak cues from China, and a negative overnight close on Wall Street provided regional indexes with few positive signals. Market participants were on edge ahead of a key U.S. nonfarm payrolls reading on Friday, expected to provide more insights into the path of monetary policy.
Expectations of a less hawkish Federal Reserve had driven significant gains in Asian stocks over the past month, as markets anticipated that the central bank would hike rates no more and begin loosening policy by as soon as March 2024.
Other Market Movements
Australia’s ASX 200 fell 0.4% on Thursday as the country’s trade surplus grew less than expected in October, with exports, particularly those to China, showing little improvement. South Korea’s KOSPI fell 0.1%, while Thailand’s SET Index led losses in Southeast Asia with a 0.7% drop.
Futures for India’s Nifty 50 index pointed to a weak open, with the index set to cool after closing at record highs for three consecutive sessions. Attention also turned to a Reserve Bank of India meeting this Friday, amid recent concerns about sticky inflation in India.