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Aug 05, 2022

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Asian stock markets rise ahead of US jobs data

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BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets rose Friday ahead of an update on the U.S. jobs market while the Federal Reserve weighs whether more rate hikes are needed to cool surging inflation.

Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney advanced. U.S. futures and oil prices edged higher.

Investors were looking ahead to monthly U.

S. employment numbers for possible signs of weakness that might prompt the Fed to decide it needs to ease off on rate hikes to cool inflation. Other data suggest the economy is slowing, which should reduce pressure for prices to rise.

“There is likely to be particular focus on the resilience of jobs growth” after an uptick in unemployment claims, said Anderson Alves of ActivTrades in a report.

The Shanghai Composite Index advanced 0.3% to 3,198.11 while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong rose less than 0.1% to 20,192.36.

The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo gained 0.8% to 28,143.55 after June labor cash earnings rose 2.2% over a year ago, though forecasters warned that strength was unlikely to last. Half-yearly bonuses are paid in June.

The Kospi in Seoul added 0.9% to 2,494.65 and Sydney’s S&P ASX 200 advanced 0.4% to 7,003.00.

India’s Sensex rose 0.5% to 58,568.12. The Reserve Bank of India raised its benchmark interest rate by a half percentage point to 5.4% on Friday.

RBI Gov. Shaktikanta Das projected that inflation would reach 6.7% in the fiscal year ending next March, and that the economy would grow at a 7.2% annual pace.

New Zealand declined while Southeast Asian markets rose.

Jakarta advanced 0.2% after Indonesia’s economy grew by a stronger-than-expected 5.4% over a year earlier in the latest quarter.

Investors worry rate hikes by the Fed and other central banks in Europe and Asia to tame inflation that is running at multi-decade highs might derail economic growth.

The Fed has raised its benchmark rate twice by 0.75 percentage points this year, three times its usual margin and the biggest hikes since the early 1990s.

Fed officials have tried to calm fears the United States might tip into a recession by pointing to a strong job market as evidence the economy can tolerate higher borrowing costs.

The number of Americans who applied for jobless benefits last week rose by a modest 6,000 from the previous week to 260,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. First-time applications generally reflect layoffs, but forecasters still see the job market one of the strongest parts of the economy.

Data earlier this week indicated the number of new U.S. job openings being advertised slipped but was still near record highs.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index closed 0.1% lower on Thursday while investors digested corporate earnings reports and waited for the jobs data.

The S&P 500 declined to 4,151.94 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3% to 32,726.82. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.4% to 12,720.58.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude gained 42 cents to $88.96 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract tumbled $2.12 the previous session to $88.54. Brent crude, the price basis for international trading, advanced 27 cents to $94.39 per barrel. It fell $2.66 the previous session to $94.12.

The dollar gained to 133.45 yen from Thursday’s 132.91 yen. The euro declined to $1.0230 from $1.0249.

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TV Garden Experts Killed and Fed to Hungry Crocodiles Over Rare Seeds, Court Hears

An elderly couple searching South African brush land for rare seeds to sell online was kidnapped, robbed, murdered and fed to crocodiles in 2018, a court in South Africa was told on Tuesday, according to local media reports.

Rod Saunders, 74, and his wife Rachel Saunders, 63, had just posed for a selfie with BBC presenter Nick Baily after filming a segment for BBC Gardeners World in which they sought out rare Gladioli flower seeds in the Drakensberg Mountain area, before they met their disastrous fate.

Mr. Saunders, a horticulturist, and Mrs. Saunders, a microbiologist, bid the television crew farewell in early February 2018 and set off to camp at a nearby dam. They told the crew they were off to harvest rare seeds to replenish the inventory of the Silverhill Seed shop they ran as an online store from Cape Town—and which could serve as the motive as locals in the area apparently complained about the removal of rare seeds for commercial gain.

On February 10, just two days after the BBC crew last saw them, local police received a request for ransom. Three days later, police discovered that someone was using their ATM cards in the Kwa-Zulu Natal national park area.

On February 15, Sayefundeen Aslam Del Vecchio, 39, and his wife Bibi Fatima Patel, 28, were arrested after cellphones used by the couple were traced to their residence.

The two were charged with the couple’s kidnapping and murder and face life in prison if found guilty. “It was established on February 13 that the defendants were drawing money from various ATM’s which amounted to theft of $42,000 and there was the robbery of their Land Cruiser and of camping equipment,” a court was told Tuesday. “It is alleged that between February 10 and 15 at the Ngoye Forest the accused did unlawfully and intentionally kill Rachel Saunders and between the same dates did unlawfully and intentionally kill Rodney Sanders.”

A third suspect, Mussa Ahmad Jackson, was also arrested but was released after cooperating with the authorities, telling them that the couple accused of the murder had complained that the foreigners were stealing seeds.

The remains of the couple, still entwined in what was left of their sleeping bags, were recovered by fishermen on February 14 and 17 in the river, but due to the mutilation from the carnivorous reptiles—and the frequency bodies are found in the river—they were not immediately linked to the missing botanists. Local fishermen reported that remnants of the sleeping bags, including zippers, were seen in the teeth of crocodiles months after the bodies were retrieved from the dangerous water.

Police later recovered the Land Cruiser used by the couple and identified their blood in the vehicle.

The remains of Mr. Saunders were positively identified on April 25, 2018, and those of his wife on June 6 after DNA checks could be carried out in the morgue in the remote area. The court was told that the pair was beaten to death with a blunt instrument and then thrown off a bridge into the croc-infested waters.

Police initially feared the suspects had ties to ISIS after messages on their phone used terms the terrorists often embraced, including the need to “kill the kuffar [non believer] and abduct their alias, to destroy infrastructure and to put fear in the heart of the kuffar,” the court heard, though the prosecutors are not pursuing terrorism as motive.

The trial is expected to continue for several weeks.

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