Asian markets are mostly subdued on Friday with investors tracking a weak lead from the U.S. and European markets. Movements are quite choppy in most of the markets in the region with investors treading cautiously ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke's speech and amid the release of a slew of economic data.
After a slightly weak start and a subsequent rebound amid selective buying, the Australian market gave up some gains and is currently trading marginally down.
Consumer staples, energy and healthcare stocks are edging higher, while stocks from financial, mining and industrial sections are mostly subdued.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, which advanced to 4,328.8 earlier in the day, is currently trading at 4,312.5, down 3.2 points from its previous close. The broader All Ordinaries index is down 4.2 points at 4,336, off the day's high of 4,351.
Among top miners, Rio Tinto is gaining 2 percent and BHP Billiton is trading lower by 0.5 percent.
In the energy sector, Woodside Petroleum is up 0.6 percent, Caltex Australia is rising 1.1 percent and Origin Energy is gaining about 1.3 percent, while Oil Search and Santos are trading weak.
Among bank stocks, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac (WBK) are up 0.3 to 0.8 percent, while ANZ Bank (ANZ) is trading flat.
Fairfax Media is trading lower by as much as 6.6 percent. Graincorp is losing nearly 6 percent. Boart Longyear, Arrium, ALS Ltd., Newcrest Mining, JB Hi-Fi and Seek are all down 2 to 4 percent.
Leighton Holdings, Paladin Energy, Primary Healthcare, Bendigo & Adelaide Bank, Alumina (AWC), Computershare, Commonwealth Property Office Fund and Incitec Pivot are also trading notably lower.
Meanwhile, Sims Metal Management, Boral and Atlas Iron are trading higher by 2 to 2.4 percent.
Harvey Norman's full year profit plunged 32 percent due to tough trading conditions, especially for televisions and electronics. The company has reported a net profit of A$172.5 million for the year to June 30, down from A$252.3 million in the previous year. The stock is currently trading flat.
The Japanese market is trading notably lower with weak industrial production data and concerns about eurozone debt triggering some heavy selling at several counters.
Automobile, financial, steel, non-ferrous metals and real estate stocks opened on a negative note and are still mostly trading notably lower. Electric power, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and insurance stocks are trading mixed.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index is currently down 99 points or 1.1 percent at 8,884.8.
Sharp Corp. is down more than 8 percent, and Showa Shell is trading lower by over 4 percent. Denso Corp., Furukawa Electric, Nippon Sheet Glass, Sumitomo Metal Industries, JFE Holdings, Nippon Electric Glass, Kobe Steel and Mitsui Mining are all trading lower by 3 to 4 percent.
Inpex Corp., Nippon Steel, Suzuki Motor, Hino Motors, Panasonic Corp, Casio Computer, Bank of Yokohama, Honda Motor and Sumitomo Metal Mining are also trading sharply lower.
Meanwhile, Chubu Electric Power, Nippon Light Metal, Nippon Yusen KK, Daiichi Sankyo, Sumitomo Osaka Cement, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding, Mitsui OSK Lines and Oki Electric Industry are up in positive territory, gaining 1 to 2.3 percent.
According to the data released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, industrial output in Japan was down a seasonally adjusted 1.2 percent on month in July - well shy of forecasts for an increase of 1.7 percent following the 0.4 percent gain in June.
On a yearly basis, production was down 1.0 percent - again missing expectations for a gain of 1.8 percent after dropping 1.5 percent in the previous month.
Upon the release of the data, the METI maintained its assessment of industrial production, saying: "Industrial production appears to be flat."
A report from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications says core inflation rate in Japan was -0.3 percent on year in July - exactly as expected and slowing from -0.2 percent in June. Overall inflation was -0.4 percent on year, missing forecasts for -0.3 percent after showing -0.2 percent in the previous month.
Core CPI for the Tokyo region - considered a leading indicator for the nationwide trend - was -0.5 percent in August. That beat forecasts for -0.6 percent, which would have been unchanged from the July reading. Overall Tokyo inflation was down 0.7 percent on year, matching forecasts and up from -0.8 percent in the previous month.
According to another data from the same ministry, the unemployment rate in Japan came in at a seasonally adjusted 4.3 percent in July - in line with expectations and unchanged from the previous month.
Meanwhile, average household spending in Japan was up 1.7 percent on year in July at 283,295 yen, another report from the Internal Affairs ministry said. That beat forecasts for an increase of 1.2 percent following the 1.6 percent gain in June.
In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded in mid-78 range in early deals in Tokyo. The yen is currently trading at 78.56 to the dollar.
Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Shanghai, Hong Kong and South Korea are down marginally and Indonesia is trading notably lower. New Zealand is trading notably higher, while Singapore and Taiwan are up with marginal gains. Markets across the region ended weak on Thursday.
On Wall Street, stocks ended lower on Thursday after turning in a lackluster performance over the three previous sessions. Some weak economic data and uncertainty ahead of a key speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke contributed to the weakness on Wall Street.
The Dow slid 106.8 points or 0.8 percent to 13,000.7, the Nasdaq dropped 32.5 points or 1.1 percent to 3,048.7, and the S&P 500 ended down 11 points or 0.8 percent at 1,399.5.
Major European markets too ended weak on Thursday. While the German DAX index tumbled by 1.6 percent, the French CAC 40 index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index lost 1 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.
U.S. crude oil prices settled lower on Thursday. Light, sweet crude for October delivery ended down 87 cents at $94.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after touching a low of $93.95 intraday.
by RTT Staff Writer
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