Asian stocks flat as investors fret over global slowdown

TOKYO - Asian stock markets were little changed Monday in thin holiday trading as investors fretted about a global economic slowdown after data showed U.S.

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employers added fewer jobs last month.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.1 per cent to 16,827.97 while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was flat at 4,975.00. Thailand's SET added 0.1 per cent to 1,307.56. India's Sensex was little changed at 24,622.50. Markets were closed in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines for Lunar New Year holidays. New Zealand's stock market was closed for a national holiday.

U.S. DATA: With much of Asia in holiday mode, attention focused on the discouraging U.S. employment figures for January released on Friday. U.S. employers added 151,000 jobs last month, a sharp deceleration from recent months as companies shed education, transportation and temporary workers. That was below economists' forecasts of 185,000 new jobs, according to a survey of analysts by financial data provider FactSet. The employment report lends weight to the case for the Federal Reserve to delay interest rate hikes, which is a positive for stock markets, but also adds to signs of weakness in major economies.

THE QUOTE: "There seems little doubt that we have reached a key juncture for the world's financial markets and if confusion wasn't at fever pitch two weeks ago then things are even worse now," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. "All eyes will be on Janet Yellen's semi-annual testimony to Congress this week and there will be much focus on her vision around the impact tighter financial conditions have had on economics."

WALL STREET: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 211.61 points, or 1.3 per cent, to finish Friday at 16,204.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 35.40 points, or 1.9 per cent, to 1,880.05 and the Nasdaq composite dropped 146.41 points, or 3.3 per cent, to 4,363.14.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude inched was up 10 cents to $30.99 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The futures contract fell 83 cents to $30.89 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was up 8 cents to $34.14 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 117.24 yen from 116.82 yen on Friday. The euro fell to $1.1132 from $1.1160.


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