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Asian Markets Mixed Amid Cautious Trades

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Asian stock markets are mixed on Wednesday amid cautious trades following news that White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, an advocate for free trade, has resigned from the Trump administration.

Cohn's resignation stoked fears that Trump will go ahead with his plan to impose tariffs and risk a trade war. It also overshadowed easing geopolitical concerns after North Korea said it is willing to talk about denuclearization.

The Australian market is declining following a choppy session overnight on Wall Street on news about Cohn's resignation.

In late-morning trades, the S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 52.20 points or 0.88 percent to 5,910.20, off a low of 5,903.30 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is lower by 50.30 points or 0.83 percent to 6,011.20. Australian shares rebounded on Tuesday after four days of losses.

In the mining sector, BHP Billiton is declining almost 1 percent, Rio Tinto is losing 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is down almost 2 percent after iron ore prices fell and on concerns whether the proposed U.S. tariffs will be implemented.

Oil stocks are weak despite crude oil prices edging up overnight. Oil Search is lower by almost 2 percent, Santos is declining more than 1 percent and Woodside Petroleum is down 0.3 percent.

The big four banks - ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank - are lower in a range of 0.6 percent to 1.5 percent.

Commonwealth Bank said it will refund A$16 million to credit card and personal loan insurance customers after finding that some customers were mis-sold their policies.

Bucking the trend, gold miners Evolution Mining and Newcrest Mining are rising more than 2 percent each after gold prices rose overnight.

Shares of Qantas Airways are declining 0.4 percent after trading ex-dividend.

In economic news, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that Australia's gross domestic product expanded a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2017. That was shy of expectations for 0.5 percent and down from 0.6 percent in the three months prior.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is slightly higher against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday. The local unit was quoted at US$0.7793, up from US$0.7774 on Tuesday.

The Japanese market has recovered after a weak start and is modestly higher in choppy trading following the modest gains overnight on Wall Street, even as a stronger safe-haven yen weighed on exporters' shares. News that Gary Cohn has resigned also weighed on investor sentiment.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 62.45 points or 0.29 percent to 21,480.21, off a low of 21,201.94 in early trades.

The major exporters are mostly lower on a stronger yen. Mitsubishi Electric is losing almost 1 percent, Panasonic is down 0.2 percent and Canon is edging down less than 0.1 percent, while Sony is advancing more than 2 percent. SoftBank is lower by 0.6 percent.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is edging down less than 0.1 percent, while Honda is rising 0.5 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is losing 1 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is down 0.3 percent.

Among steel makers, Japan Steel Works is losing almost 3 percent and Nippon Steel is down more than 1 percent. Kobe Steel is falling 5 percent on news that the company's CEO Hiroya Kawasaki will resign on April 1 following a data falsification scandal.

In the oil space, Inpex is adding 0.2 percent, while Japan Petroleum Exploration is declining 0.3 percent after crude oil prices edged higher overnight.

Among the market's best performers, Dentsu is rising more than 3 percent, while Nichirei Corp. and Terumo Corp. are advancing more than 2 percent each.

On the flip side, Showa Denko is lower by more than 4 percent, while Mitsubishi Motors as well as Mitsui Mining & Smelting are down more than 3 percent.

On the economic front, Japan will see preliminary January data for its leading and coincident indexes today.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 105 yen-range on Wednesday.

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

On Wall Street, stocks closed modestly higher on Tuesday in choppy trading that was partly attributed to concerns about President Donald Trump's top economic advisor Gary Cohn leaving the White House. The strength seen early in the day came amid easing geopolitical concerns following reports that North Korea is willing to talk about denuclearization.

The Dow inched up 9.36 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 24,884.12, the Nasdaq advanced 41.30 points or 0.6 percent to 7,372.01 and the S&P 500 rose 7.18 points or 0.3 percent to 2,728.12.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on Tuesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.4 percent, the German DAX Index and the French CAC 40 Index edged up by 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively.

Crude oil prices continued to rise Tuesday even as the government said to expect robust production from U.S. drillers. April WTI crude added $0.03 or less than 0.1 percent to settle at $62.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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