Asia Pacific shares mostly higher as investors await US initial jobless claims data

Stocks in Asia were mostly higher in Thursday afternoon trade ahead of the release of the U.S. unemployment claims report.

Shares in Australia led gains among the region’s major markets, with the S&P/ASX 200 jumping 2.06% as shares of major banks such as Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac rose.

Mainland Chinese stocks edged higher by the afternoon, with the Shanghai composite up about 0.3% while the Shenzhen component gaining 0.614%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index advanced 0.7%.

Over in South Korea, the Kospi gained 0.97% as shares of automaker Hyundai Motor soared more than 6% while the Kosdaq index gained 1%.

Japan’s Nikkei 225, on the other hand, slipped 0.39% while the Topix index also declined 1.13%.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index rose 1.06%.

On the economic data front, the U.S. unemployment claims report for the week ended April 4 is set to be out at 8:30 a.m. ET Thursday, with more than five million expected to have filed for unemployment last week as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.

Aberdeen Standard Investments’ Hugh Young told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Thursday that the numbers on the unemployment front will likely look “fairly bad.”

“We’ve seen the initial short, sharp rises (in unemployment) and I think as other industries assess the effect on their businesses — even when their businesses are in decent shape — are going to look at cutting out costs more and more,” said Young, who is managing director for the Asia Pacific region at Aberdeen Standard Investments. “It’s going to be quite brutal, I think, in the months ahead.”

In Asia, the Bank of Korea kept its benchmark interest unchanged, Reuters reported Thursday. That was largely in line with expectations of most analysts surveyed by Reuters.

Oil prices advance

Oil prices pared earlier gains in the morning of Asian trading hours on Thursday but remained higher, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up 0.76% at $33.09 per barrel. The U.S. crude futures contract also soared 2.79% to $25.79 per barrel.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 100.10 after seeing an earlier low of 99.992.

The Japanese yen traded at 108.91 per dollar after weakening from levels below 108.8 yesterday. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.6234 after touching an earlier low of $0.6207.

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