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Asian Markets Exhibit Mixed Trend

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Asian stock markets are exhibiting a mixed trend on Tuesday following the lackluster cues overnight from Wall Street and on caution as the U.S. Federal Reserve kicks off its two-day monetary policy meeting later in the day. Investors are also awaiting industrial output and retail sales data from China today.

The Fed is widely expected to increase interest rates at the culmination for its two-day meeting on Wednesday. Investors will also focus on Fed Chair Janet Yellen's accompanying press conference for clues about whether rates will be hiked again in the coming months.

The Australian market is drifting lower after opening higher, following the mixed cues from Wall Street and on caution ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve's interest rate decision on Wednesday.

Investors also digested data showing a deterioration in business confidence in Australia in February. Gains by mining and oil stocks were offset by weakness in banking shares.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 2.90 points or 0.05 percent to 5,754.40, after rising to 5,783.60 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 0.70 points or 0.01 percent to 5,793.90.

The major miners are advancing, lifted by higher Chinese steel and iron ore futures. BHP Billiton is rising more than 1 percent, Rio Tinto is gaining more than 2 percent and Fortescue Metals is higher by almost 3 percent.

Oil stocks are also higher even as crude oil prices edged lower overnight. Woodside Petroleum is up 0.3 percent, Oil Search is adding 0.6 percent and Santos is up 1 percent.

In the banking sector, ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac are lower in a range of 0.2 percent to 0.8 percent.

Gold miners are also weak as gold prices were little changed overnight. Newcrest Mining is edging up less than 0.1 percent, while Evolution Mining is losing 0.5 percent.

The managing director of Coca-Cola Amatil's beverages unit, Barry O'Connel, is leaving the company after four years with the group. Shares of the company are losing more than 1 percent.

In economic news, the latest survey from the National Australia Bank revealed that business confidence in Australia deteriorated in February, with an index score of +7. That's down from +10 in January.

Business conditions also slipped in February, with the index dropping to +9 from +16 in the previous month.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is marginally higher against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday. In early trades, the local unit was trading at US$0.7575, up from US$0.7571 on Monday.

The Japanese market declined from 15-month highs in the previous session, tracking the lackluster cues overnight from Wall Street and as the yen fluctuated. Investors are treading cautiously ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary policy decision on Wednesday.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 29.02 points or 0.15 percent to 19,604.73, off a low of 19,600.53 earlier.

The major exporters are weak. Toshiba and Panasonic are losing more than 1 percent each, Sony is lower by almost 1 percent and Canon is down 0.4 percent. The Nikkei business daily reported that Toshiba is set to push back the release of its earnings results again from Tuesday.

Automaker Toyota is declining almost 1 percent and Honda is losing 0.2 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is lower by 0.2 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is down 0.3 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is advancing almost 2 percent and JX Holdings is rising 0.7 percent.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will pay $125 million in damages for selling defective steam generators to utility Southern California Edison and two other owners of San Onofre nuclear plant in California. However, shares of Mitsubishi Heavy are gaining more than 7 percent.

Among the other major gainers, Pioneer Corp. and Marui Group are rising more than 2 percent each, while DeNA Co. is losing 2 percent.

In economic news, Japan will provide February figures for Tokyo condominium sales today.

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

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

On Wall Street, stocks closed mixed on Monday as traders braced for the upcoming Federal Reserve meeting that kicks off Tuesday. The Fed is expected to announce a modest interest rate at the culmination for its two-day meeting on Wednesday.

The Dow shed 21.50 points or 0.1 percent to 20,881.48, while the S&P added 0.87 points or 0.04 percent to 2,373.47 and the Nasdaq rose 14.06 points or 0.24 percent to 5,875.78.

The European markets ended with modest gains Monday. The DAX of Germany climbed 0.22 percent, the CAC 40 of France rose 0.13 percent and the FTSE 100 of the U.K. gained 0.33 percent.

Crude oil futures continued to fall Monday after the U.S. government raised its shale oil output estimates for April. April WTI oil settled at $48.40 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down 9 cents, or 0.2 percent, the lowest since November.

by RTT Staff Writer

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