Global markets continued to look for direction on Thursday as investor uncertainty about the state of the global economy created opportunity for both concern and optimism. In Australia, employment data released on Thursday was above expectations, showing the creation of 21,600 jobs in December, significantly more than the 16,500 jobs predicted. The unemployment rate down under was settled at 5 percent, lower than the 5.1 percent analysts had forecast. Australia’s benchmark ASX 200 index was up 0.38 percent as of 2:48 p.m. HKSIN, though the Australian dollar slipped in mid-afternoon trade, heading lower against the dollar to 0.7096.
The optimism down under, however, was tempered by lingering concerns about the trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, and fresh diplomatic strains between the United States and Venezuela. On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced that it would throw support to Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan National Assembly leader, a move which directly caused the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, to recall all Venezuelan diplomatic staffers from the U.S., and to sever ties immediately with Washington. Escalating tensions between the countries could be potentially detrimental for both sides and could have wide-reaching impacts, since the U.S. is a big purchaser of heavy crude from Venezuela’s Bolivarian Republic, and Venezuela is a big importer of super light crude from the U.S. Traders are also concerned since President Trump has shown that he is willing to enforce sanctions, and since Venezuela holds OPEC’s rotating presidency this year, such sanctions could impact all of the biggest global oil producers.
U.S. WTI futures were down 0.57 percent in the mid-afternoon in Asia, trading at $52.32 per barrel, while Brent crude futures were trading at $60.79 per barrel, also down 0.57 percent.