Asian markets lower amid China, Afghanistan unease

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets declined Tuesday amid concern about turmoil in Afghanistan and unease about China’s economic outlook after weak July activity.

Investors looked ahead to a speech by U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell for an update on the health of the biggest global economy. Traders also were waiting for U.S. sales and factory data.

Shanghai, Hong Kong and South Korea declined while Tokyo gained.

Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 hit a new high despite rising U.S. coronavirus infections.

Traders got “some positive sentiment” from Wall Street but also were “paying close attention to the situation in Afghanistan,” said Anderson Alves of ActivTrades in a report.

Landlocked Afghanistan’s economy is tiny, but other governments were caught off guard by the speed of the collapse of its government. Thousands of people tried to flee the country after the Taliban seized the capital, Kabul.

Markets also were digesting news that Chinese factory output, consumer spending and investment grew slower in July than expected. The government blamed flooding in central China and controls on travel and business to fight outbreaks of the coronavirus’s delta variant.

That led to a drop in oil prices Monday as traders adjusted forecasts of Chinese demand.

Beijing’s policy of pursuing zero virus cases “points towards the risk of aggressive measures” that “may continue to put a cap on growth,” said Yeap Jun Rong of IG in a report.

The Shanghai Composite Index lost less than 0.1% to 3,514.29 while the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo gained 0.2% to 27,569.84. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong shed less than 0.1% to 26,162.22.

The Kospi in Seoul sank 0.8% to 3,144.58 while Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 declined 0.9% to 7,515.90.

New Zealand and Bangkok gained while Singapore and Indonesia declined.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 rose 0.3% to 4,479.71. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.3% to 35,625.40. The Nasdaq fell 29.14 points to 14,793.76.

Technology and health care stocks accounted for much of the gain in the S&P 500.

Sectors traditionally considered lower risk, including utilities and companies that make food and personal goods also helped lift the market. Those gains outweighed a pullback in banks, energy stocks and a swath of retailers and travel sector companies.

Analysts had expected U.S. economic growth to slow from its breakneck pace earlier this year, but the highly contagious delta variant has prompted even more caution from investors.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude rose 10 cents to $67.36. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 16 cents to $69.62.

The dollar gained to 109.28 yen from Monday’s 109.24. The euro declined to $1.1772 from $1.1776.