Asian stock markets are mostly trading in positive territory with investors betting on hopes of some solid earnings reports from the region. However, with the mood remaining quite cautious amid lingering concerns about the economic situation in the eurozone, gains are just modest in most of the markets in the region.
The Australian stock market is trading marginally higher, with investors indulging in stock specific activity. After a fall from higher levels, the market did bounce back smartly around noon, but gave up most of its gains subsequently.
Consumer discretionary, energy, mining and industrial stocks are finding fairly good support, while financial and telecommunications stocks are mostly trading lower.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, which rose to 4,296, is currently trading at 4,276, up slightly less than a point from its previous close. The broader All Ordinaries index is up 2 points at 4,334.2, nearly 20 points off the day's high of 4,353.4.
Among miners, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals are up 0.5 to 1 percent, while Newcrest Mining is gaining as much as 3.5 percent.
In the energy sector, Woodside Petroleum, Oil Search and Origin Energy are up 1.4 to 2 percent, while Caltex Australia and Santos are trading higher by 0.6 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.
Among bank stocks, ANZ Bank is down 0.5 percent, National Australia Bank is down with a loss of 0.5 percent and Westpac is trading 0.4 percent lower, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia is trading flat. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank and Bank of Queensland are down marginally.
National Australia Bank said its net profit for the six months to March 31 fell 15.5 percent to A$2.05 billion due to its underperforming operations in the U.K.
Perseus Mining shares are up nearly 7 percent. Alumina is gaining 5.7 percent. Onesteel, Iluka Resources, Regis Resources and Panaust are up 4 to 4.5 percent.
News Corporation shares are gaining 3.7 percent. The company has reported a 47 percent rise in third-quarter net profit to A$929.79 million, thanks to a number of one-off gains.
Downer EDI, Centro Retail Australia, QR National, David Jones, AMP, Toll Holdings, Campbell Brothers, Myer Holdings, Ramsay Healthcare and Brambles are trading higher by 2 to 3.5 percent.
Leighton Holdings announced that it has won gas and water infrastructure contracts worth A$800 million in Queensland. The stock is trading 0.5 percent up from its previous closing price.
In economic news, Australia's employment increased unexpectedly in April, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The number of employed persons rose by 15,500 to 11.5 million in April after adjusting to seasonal variations. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed persons fell by 28,800 to 598,200.
The unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in April, down from 5.2 percent in March. Economists were looking for an increase to 5.3 percent. The participation rate was 65.2 percent compared to March's 65.4 percent.
After a weak start, the Japanese stock market pared most of its losses before losing some ground again with investors mostly treading a cautious path amid lingering concerns about the global economy.
However, with a few front line stocks inching higher on strong support, the market rebounded again and was up marginally when the morning session ended.
Financial, real estate and mining stocks traded weak, while electric power, pharmaceuticals and gas stocks found support. Steel, non-ferrous metals and automobile stocks were trading mixed.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index, which drifted down to 8,989 in early trades, was up 20 points at 9,065 at the end of the morning session.
Takara Holdings Inc shares lost more than 5 percent. GS Yuasa, Yokohama Rubber, Japan Tobacco and Kikkoman Corp were down 3 to 4.5 percent.
Nippon Yusen KK shares lost over 3 percent following a drop in cargo rates. Trend Micro, Ajinomoto Co, Fuji Electric, Bridgestone Corp, Fast Retailing, Panasonic Corp, J Front Retailing and Mitsui & Co shares drifted down by 1 to 2 percent.
Among automobile stocks, Toyota Motor gained more than 2 percent higher following robust profit forecast. Isuzu Motors surged up 1.5 percent and Honda Motor gained nearly a percent, while Hino Motors, Mitsubishi Motors and Suzuki Motor posted notable losses.
In the banking space, Aozora Bank, Bank of Yokohama and SMFG were trading modestly higher, while Chiba Bank, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial, Mizuho Financial and Shinsei Bank traded flat.
Tokyo Electric Power gained more than 11 percent following the government taking control of the utility. Kansai Electric Power was up more than 5.5 percent.
Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding, Keisei Electric Railway, Pacific Metals, Nisshin Steel, Nippon Light Metals, Chubu Electric Power, Konami, Mitsui Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical and Olympus gained 2 to 3.5 percent.
On the economic front, Japan saw a current account surplus of 1.589 trillion yen in March, the Ministry of Finance said Thursday. That beat forecasts for a surplus of 1.449 trillion yen after showing a surplus of 1.177 trillion yen in February.
The trade balance came in with a surplus of 4.2 billion yen, also beating expectations for a deficit of 42.8 billion yen after the surplus of 102.1 billion yen in the previous month.
The adjusted current account showed a surplus of 785.5 billion yen, well above forecasts for a surplus of 650.0 billion yen after coming in at 854.1 billion yen a month earlier. For the fiscal year 2011, the current account surplus was 7.893 trillion yen - down from 16.659 trillion yen in FY 2010.
Meanwhile, bank lending in Japan was up 0.4 percent on year in April at 397.08 trillion yen, the Bank of Japan said. That follows the 0.9 percent annual expansion in March.
Including trusts, bank lending was up 0.3 percent to 459.30 trillion yen after rising 0.8 percent on year in the previous month. Loans from foreign banks plummeted 22.7 percent on year to 2.224 trillion yen after plunging an annual 26.7 percent a year earlier.
In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded in the upper 79 yen range in early deals in Tokyo. The yen is currently trading at 79.65 to the dollar.
Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Shanghai, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Taiwan are trading modestly higher, while Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore are trading weak. Markets across the region ended notably lower on Wednesday.
On Wall Street, stocks ended notably lower on Wednesday despite staging a fairly strong comeback from the day's lows. Once again, uncertainty about the political situation in Europe weighed on the markets.
The Dow ended down 97 points or 0.8 percent at 12,853.1 and the Nasdaq drifted down 11.6 points or 0.4 percent to 2,934.7, while the S&P 500 slid 9.1 points or 0.7 percent to 1,354.6.
Major European markets turned in a mixed performance on Wednesday. While the German DAX index moved up by 0.5 percent, the French CAC 40 index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index lost 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.
U.S. crude oil futures drifted lower for a sixth straight day on Wednesday with a strong dollar and concerns about the Eurozone economy contributing to the slide. Crude for June delivery dropped $0.20 or 0.2 percent to close at $96.81 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
by RTT Staff Writer
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