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Asian Markets Edge Higher Amid Thin Trading Volume


Asian stock markets are edging higher on Thursday following the slight gains on Wall Street and as a rally in crude oil prices paused, while copper prices surged to their highest levels in almost four years overnight. Trading volume continued to remain in the holiday-shortened week between Christmas and New Year.

The Australian market is edging higher in choppy trade. In late-morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 2.00 points or 0.03 percent to 6,071.90, off a high of 6,076.40 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 1.80 points or 0.03 percent to 6,171.50.

Gold miners are higher after gold prices extended gains to a fifth straight session overnight. Newcrest Mining is adding almost 1 percent and Evolution Mining is rising 0.4 percent.

The major miners are also mostly higher despite the slight decline in iron ore prices. BHP Billiton is adding 0.4 percent and Rio Tinto is up 0.3 percent while Fortescue Metals is down 0.1 percent.

Among the big four banks, Westpac, National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank are higher in a range of 0.1 percent to 0.3 percent, while ANZ Banking is down 0.2 percent.

In the oil sector, Woodside Petroleum is adding 0.2 percent and Santos is up 0.3 percent, while Oil Search is losing almost 1 percent after crude oil prices edged lower overnight.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar climbed to a more than two-month high against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. In early trades, the local unit was quoted at US$0.7772, up from US$0.7745 on Wednesday.

The Japanese market is flat following the lackluster session overnight on Wall Street. Investor reaction was muted despite the release of better-than-expected Japanese retail sales and industrial output data.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 6.68 points or 0.03 percent to 22,917.89, off a high of 22,932.73 earlier.

The major exporters are weak. Canon is declining 1 percent, Mitsubishi Electric and Panasonic are lower by 0.3 percent each, and Sony is edging down 0.1 percent.

In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is losing more than 1 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is down 0.2 percent.

Among automakers, Honda is edging up less than 0.1 percent, while Toyota is declining 0.2 percent. In the oil space, Inpex is adding 0.5 percent and Japan Petroleum Exploration is advancing more than 1 percent despite crude oil prices slipping overnight.

Among the market's best performers, Kobe Steel is rising more than 2 percent, while Kyowa Hakko Kirin and Pacific Metals are advancing almost 2 percent each.
On the flip side, Nippon Suisan Kaisha and Nippon Sheet Glass is losing almost 3 percent each.

On the economic front, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a preliminary reading that industrial output in Japan climbed a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent on month in November. That beat expectations for an increase of 0.5 percent, which would have been unchanged from the October reading.

Retail sales in Japan were up a seasonally adjusted 1.9 percent on month in November. That beat forecasts for a gain of 0.7 percent following the downwardly revised 0.1 percent contraction in October.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the lower 113 yen-range on Thursday.

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

On Wall Street, stocks closed slightly higher in another lackluster session on Wednesday as many traders remained away from their desks following Christmas and ahead of the holiday on New Year's Day. Traders largely shrugged off a mixed batch of economic data, as pending home sales unexpectedly edged higher but consumer confidence pulled back more than expected.

The Dow ticked up 28.09 points or 0.1 percent to 24,774.30, the Nasdaq inched up 3.09 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 6,939.34 and the S&P 500 edged up 2.12 points or 0.1 percent to 2,682.62.

The major European markets turned in a mixed performance on Wednesday. While the German DAX Index closed just below the unchanged line, the French CAC 40 Index ticked up by 0.1 percent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.4 percent.

Crude oil prices edged lower on Wednesday, having surged to near $60 in the previous session. WTI crude for February slipped $0.33 or 0.6 percent to close at $59.64 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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