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Asian Markets Mostly Lower

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Asian stock markets are mostly lower on Thursday despite Wall Street closing at record highs for a fifth straight session overnight as better than expected U.S. economic data and and hawkish testimony from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen raised prospects of an interest rate hike in March.

Investors are also focusing on local corporate earnings results and economic data. The U.S. dollar slipped against major currencies.

The Australian market opened higher following the positive lead from Wall Street, but slipped into negative territory on disappointing corporate earnings results.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 13.10 points or 0.23 percent to 5,796.00, after rising to a high of 5,833.20 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 13.80 points or 0.24 percent to 5,845.30.

The big four banks are advancing. ANZ Banking, Westpac Banking, National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank are higher in a range of 0.2 percent to 0.8 percent.

The major miners are also higher. BHP Billiton is adding 0.6 percent, Rio Tinto is advancing 0.6 percent and Fortescue Metals is rising 0.2 percent.

South32 reported a turnaround to profit in the half year on higher revenues and maintained its production guidance for the full year. However, the miner's shares are losing almost 3 percent.

Gold miners are gaining ground after gold prices rose overnight. Newcrest Mining is adding 0.7 percent and Evolution Mining is up more than 1 percent.

Oil stocks are mostly lower after crude oil prices edged lower overnight. Santos is adding 0.4 percent, while Woodside Petroleum is declining 0.6 percent and Oil Search is losing 0.7 percent.

Origin Energy's shares are down more than 2 percent as the company scrapped its interim dividend after reporting a first-half loss that widened from last year to A$1.7 billion.

Shares of Tatts Group are declining more than 3 percent after the gambling giant recorded a 16.5 percent decline in first-half net profit.

Ten Network Holdings shares are falling more than 5 percent after the broadcaster warned of a full-year loss due to weak ad revenue and higher costs.

Shares of Slater and Gordon are losing more than 22 percent after the law firm warned of lower revenue at its Australian business and said further impairments against its troubled UK business were likely.

Telstra's shares are lower by more than 4 percent after the telecom giant recorded a 14 percent decline in first-half profit on lower revenues and also lowered its full-year earnings outlook.

In economic news, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the jobless rate in Australia came in at a seasonally adjusted 5.7 percent in January. That beat forecasts for 5.8 percent, which would have been unchanged from the December reading.

The Australian economy added 13,500 jobs in January to 11,998,200, beating forecasts for 10,000 after collecting 13,500 jobs in the previous month.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is higher against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. In early trades, the local unit was trading at US$0.7715, up from US$0.7667 on Wednesday.

The Japanese market is declining despite the positive lead overnight from Wall Street, as a stronger yen weighed on exporters' shares.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 133.96 points or 0.69 percent to 19,304.02, off a low of 19,272.62 earlier.

Among the other major exporters, Toshiba is losing almost 3 percent, Panasonic is lower by almost 1 percent and Sony is down 0.6 percent. Canon is edging up less than 0.1 percent.

Automaker Toyota is declining 0.6 percent and Honda is losing almost 1 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is adding 0.6 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is higher by 0.7 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is losing 0.7 percent and JX Holdings is edging down less than 0.1 percent after crude oil prices edged lower overnight.

Among the other major gainers, Nikon Corp. is rising more than 3 percent, while Asahi Group and Kubota are higher by almost 3 percent each. On the flip side, Rakuten is losing almost 3 percent and Tokyo Electron is down more than 2 percent.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded in the lower 114 yen-range on Thursday.

On the economic front, Japan will release final January figures for machine tool orders today.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan are also lower, while Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong are modestly higher.

On Wall Street, stocks closed again at record highs on Wednesday following the release of a slew of U.S. economic data, including a Commerce Department report showing stronger than expected retail sales growth in the month of January.

The Dow climbed 107.45 points or 0.5 percent to 20,611.86, the Nasdaq advanced 36.87 points or 0.6 percent to 5,819.44 and the S&P 500 rose 11.67 points or 0.5 percent to 2,349.25.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on Wednesday. While the German DAX Index edged up by 0.2 percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the French CAC 40 Index climbed by 0.5 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

Crude oil prices inched lower Wednesday, holding in a stubborn trading range after government data confirmed U.S. inventories at record highs. WTI crude oil for March settled down $0.09 at $53.11 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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