Asian markets mostly fall ahead of US jobs report

SEOUL, South Korea

Japan's Nikkei 225 index, Asia's biggest market, fell 1.2 percent to 8,955.30, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index declined 1.3 percent to 20,313.99.

The U.S. Labor Department announces figures for employment and the jobless rate in August later Friday. Employers are expected to have added 93,000 jobs. Such a figure would not significantly dent the current unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.

Fears that the U.S. economy is in danger of falling back into recession have dogged the markets, though recent indicators -- including gains in auto sales, manufacturing and consumer spending -- point to steady, though not strong, growth.

On the negative side, however, consumer confidence plunged in August to a two-year low and a key category that tracks business investment plans declined 0.9 percent in July.

"This is a big number," said Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong, referring to the jobs report. "The market is still very cautious ahead of the non-farm payrolls data."

Investors watch the report as a key barometer of the health of the world's largest economy, which despite its recovery from the worst of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the global financial meltdown has struggled to create enough jobs to sharply bring down the unemployment rate.

Mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.3 percent to 2,523.30, while South Korea's Kospi moved 0.7 percent lower to 1,868.77. Markets in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Singapore also fell.

Benchmarks in the Philippines and India, however, bucked the losing trend to gain less than 1 percent each.

In New York on Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 1 percent to 11,493.57, giving up early gains of as much as 103 points and snapping a four day winning streak.

Bank stocks led the market lower after regulators announced enforcement measures against a former subsidiary of Goldman Sachs over mortgage and foreclosure practices. Jitters ahead of the release of the government's monthly jobs report also hurt sentiment.

Broader indices also fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 1.2 percent to 1,204.42. The technology-focused Nasdaq composite index lost 1.3 percent to 2,546.04.

In currencies, the dollar strengthened slightly to 76.83 yen from 76.78 yen late in New York on Thursday. New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda named Jun Azumi, a 49-year-old former journalist, as finance minister Friday as he launches his Cabinet. Azumi will be in charge of currency policy as Japan, the world's third-largest economy, struggles with the effects of a strong yen that remains near an all-time high against the dollar.

The euro, meanwhile, fell to $1.4266 from $1.4273.

Benchmark oil for October delivery was down 20 cents to $88.73 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 12 cents to settle at $88.93 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In London, Brent crude for October delivery was down 27 cents at $114.02 on the ICE Futures exchange.

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