Asia shares mostly lower; oil prices advance

Monday, March 8, 2021 | Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer


People walk past a bank's electronic board showing the Hong Kong share index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange in Hong Kong Monday, March 8, 2021. Asian shares were mixed Monday, as some indexes were lifted by hopes for a gradual global recovery after the U.S. economic relief package passed the Senate over the weekend. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly lower Monday despite hopes for a gradual global recovery after the U.S. stimulus package passed the Senate over the weekend.

Heavy selling of shares in technology companies helped drag benchmarks lower in Japan and South Korea after early gains. The Shanghai Composite index dropped 2.3% after China’s foreign minister made ominous comments about the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 shed 0.4% to 28,743.25. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.4% higher to 6,739.60, while South Korea's Kospi sank 1.0% to 2,995.90. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.5% to 28,661.49, while the Shanghai Composite fell to 3,423.02.

Chinese computer chip maker SMIC dropped 5.2%; mobile phone maker Xiaomi lost 7.8%; Japanese technology and energy giant SoftBank shed 2.4% and printer and copy machine maker Ricoh lost 6.3%.

Oil prices pressed higher, with Brent crude surpassing $70 per barrel after OPEC chose not to lift production cuts. Oil prices surged late last week after Yemen rebels claimed they had attacked a Saudi oil facility.

At an annual news conference on the sidelines of largely ceremonial annual session of China's National People's Congress, Foreign Minister Wang Yi demanded the Biden administration reverse former President Donald Trump’s “dangerous practice” of showing support for Taiwan.

China’s claim to Taiwan, which split with the mainland in 1949 but is claimed by Beijing as its territory, is an “insurmountable red line,” he said. Separately, Wu Qian, a spokesperson for the Defense Ministry and a delegate to the congress, said that China would not “renounce the use of force and reserve the right to take whatever measures are necessary.”

Taiwan's share benchmark fell a modest 0.2%.

Beijing data released Saturday showed China’s exports surged 60.6% over a year earlier in the first two months of 2021, as factories reopened and global demand gradually recovered. The huge increase reflects a plunge in manufacturing and exports in early 2020 at the height of China’s coronavirus outbreaks.

The gradual vaccine rollout in most parts of the world is also boosting optimism, although it has hardly started in some Asian nations, including Japan.

Japan has extended a state of emergency for the Tokyo area for two more weeks through March 21, asking restaurants and other businesses to close at 8 p.m. as the government tries to keep the economy growing while curtailing the spread of COVID-19 infections.

The U.S. economic aid package, passed narrowly by the Senate on Saturday, provides direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans and extends emergency unemployment benefits. It's a victory for President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies as the final congressional approval is expected this week.

Wall Street capped a volatile day of trading to finish last week with a broad rally that snapped the market's three-day losing streak. The S&P 500 gained 2% to 3,841.94. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 1.9% to 31,496.30. The Nasdaq composite climbed 1.6% to 12,920.15.

Smaller company stocks outgained the broader market, as they have all year. The Russell 2000 index picked up 2.1%, to 2,192.21.

A U.S. government report Friday showed employers added hundreds of thousands more jobs last month than economists expected and was an encouraging sign for the economy. But it also helped lift Treasury yields, adding to worries that rising inflation might end a spell of ultralow interest rates.

Rising oil prices are a part of that picture. After plunging with the onset of the pandemic, as demand plummeted, prices have been recovering in the past few months.

The devastating winter freeze that hit Texas and other parts of the southern United States last month knocked out production of roughly 4 million barrels per day of U.S. oil and prices climbed above $60 a barrel.

Last week, with oil prices rising, some observers were expecting the OPEC cartel and its allies to lift more restrictions and let the oil flow more freely. But OPEC agreed to leave most restrictions in place, despite growing demand.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.27 to $67.36 a barrel in electronic trading Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It jumped $2.26 to $66.09 per barrel on Friday.

Brent crude, the international standard, gained $1.36 to $70.72 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar inched up to 108.42 Japanese yen from 108.34 yen. The euro cost $1.1904, down from $1.1919.

___

AP Business Writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed.

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