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Asia stocks set to track soft Wall Street lead amid pandemic worries

David Henry
Employees of the Tokyo Stock Exchange work at the bourse in Tokyo

By David Henry

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Asian stocks were set to come under pressure on Thursday as downbeat economic data pushed investors to safe havens and growing worries about falling demand sent oil prices lower.

Traders continue to be torn between signs that consumers and businesses are emerging from the economic paralysis caused by the coronavirus and the reality that the pandemic continues to choke global demand.

Also in focus are fresh hostilities between Beijing and Washington after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was watching closely whether China would meet its commitments to increase U.S. goods purchases under the Phase 1 trade deal.

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 <ESc1> fell 0.28%.

Japan's Nikkei 225 futures <NKc1> fell 0.23% while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index futures <.HSI> <HSIc1> lost 0.76%.

Oil, which had rallied for a week as economies slowly reopened, dropped as much as 4% on Wednesday after U.S. crude stockpiles ticked up and diesel inventories swelled, offsetting OPEC-led cuts in production.

Equities investors are expected on Thursday to face more of the kind of dismal economic data that chilled sentiment on Wednesday and stopped the oil rally.

Chinese trade data is expected to show double-digit percentage declines in exports and imports because of the damage from the pandemic to global demand and manufacturing supply chains.

Analysts at ANZ Bank have warned that Asian equity prices show excessive optimism about corporate performance that could be dashed by first-quarter earnings results.

Markets had been upbeat earlier in the week as governments slowly reopened their economies. But that faded on Wednesday in the face of a chilling euro zone GDP forecast and a report that U.S. private employers laid off a record 20.2 million workers in April.

Wall Street was mostly lower on Wednesday. The S&P 500 index closed 0.7% weaker after a late-day selloff. The Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 0.51% as traders bet on tech and other so-called stay-at-home sectors, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> lost 0.91%.

"Looking across the markets as we close off the U.S. session and hurtle in Asia trade, we see price action has been soggy, and the bears will probably just about take this one," Chris Weston, Melbourne-based head of research at broker Pepperstone, said in a Thursday note to clients.

In currency trading, safe-havens rose on Wednesday. The yen hit a seven-week high against the dollar and a 3-1/2-peak versus the euro.

Against a basket of peers, the dollar rose for a third session.

"Safe havens are likely to hold the upper hand as many brace for the impact of the late week jobs data," said Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst, at Western Union Business Solutions in Washington.

The U.S. government jobs report due on Friday is expected to show the unemployment rate jumped to 16% in April, which would shatter the post-World War Two record of 10.8% set November 1982.

A weekly U.S. government report due on Thursday is forecast to show another 3 million people filed claims for unemployment, adding to the 30.3 million claims of the previous few weeks.

The European Commission on Wednesday forecast the euro zone economy would contract by a record 7.7% this year, and warned that public debt and budget deficits will balloon on spending to offset the damage from the pandemic.

That undercut optimism, sending the pan-European STOXX 600 index <.STOXX> down 0.4%.

MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe <.MIWD00000PUS> shed 0.42% on Wednesday.

Longer-dated U.S. Treasury yields jumped to three-week highs on Wednesday after the government sharply increased the size of its long-dated debt auctions to finance its expanding deficit.

Benchmark 10-year note yields <US10YT=RR> jumped as high as 0.743% on Wednesday, the most since April 15.

Gold fell further on Wednesday under the pressure of a stronger dollar and expectations that supplies will grow as bullion refineries resume operations. Spot gold, which had dipped 1.1% in the New York afternoon, <XAU=> added 0.1% to $1,686.54 an ounce.


(Reporting by David Henry in New York; Editing by Sam Holmes)