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Asian Markets Mixed Amid Cautious Trades


Asian stock markets are mixed on Tuesday following the lackluster cues overnight from Wall Street and lower commodity prices. Steel makers are declining amid lingering concerns about the impact of U.S. President Donald Trump's recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Investors now look ahead to the closely-watched U.S. consumer price data due later in the day to gauge the outlook for future interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve. Analysts expect the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates four times this year if inflation picks up.

The Australian market is declining following the mixed cues from Wall Street and lower commodity prices. Investors also digested weaker than expected local economic data.

In late-morning trades, the S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 33.50 points or 0.56 percent to 5,962.60, just slightly off a low of 5,962.30 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 34.80 points or 0.57 percent to 6,066.60.

Among the major miners, BHP Billiton is down more than 1 percent, Rio Tinto is lower by almost 2 percent and Fortescue Metals is losing more than 2 percent.

Oil stocks are also weak after crude oil prices declined more than 1 percent. Oil Search, Santos and Woodside Petroleum are down in a range of 0.2 percent to 0.8 percent.

Woodside Petroleum confirmed that it will operate the Scarborough gas field after securing the support of co-stakeholder BHP Billiton for its acquisition of ExxonMobil's 50 percent stake in the Western Australia field.

The big four banks - ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank - are lower in a range of 0.5 percent to 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, gold miners are mixed after gold prices dipped overnight. Evolution Mining is adding 0.3 percent, while Newcrest Mining is losing almost 2 percent, extending sharp losses from Monday after the company said that a dam wall breach at its NSW goldmine will "adversely impact guidance".

Shares of Bluescope Steel are down 0.5 percent, a day after gaining more than 3 percent following U.S. confirmation of Australia being exempted from its tariffs on imported steel.

On the economic front, the latest survey from National Australia Bank revealed that business confidence in Australia ebbed in January, with an index score of +9. That is still positive, which means that optimists outnumber pessimists - although it's down from the downwardly revised +11 in January.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the total number of new home loans in Australia was down a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent on month in January - coming in at 54,443. That missed forecasts for a fall of 1.0 percent following the 2.3 percent drop in December.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is slightly weaker against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday. The local unit was quoted at US$0.7869, down from US$0.7870 on Monday.

The Japanese market is modestly lower, tracking the mixed lead overnight from Wall Street and as the yen strengthened after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came under renewed scrutiny in a suspected cronyism scandal.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is declining 51.64 points or 0.24 percent to 21,772.39, off a low of 21,700.78 in early trades.

The major exporters are mixed on a stronger yen. Mitsubishi Electric and Sony are advancing almost 1 percent each, Canon is unchanged and Panasonic is edging down less than 0.1 percent.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is declining almost 1 percent and Honda is losing almost 2 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is advancing more than 1 percent, while Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is down 1 percent.

Steel maker Japan Steel Works is declining almost 1 percent and Nippon Steel is down more than 1 percent amid investor concerns about U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.

In the oil space, Inpex is losing more than 2 percent and Japan Petroleum Exploration is lower by 2 percent after crude oil prices declined overnight.

Among the market's best performers, Sumco Corp. is rising almost 4 percent, Toyobo Co. is gaining almost 3 percent and Kansai Electric Power is higher by more than 2 percent.

On the flip side, Denka Co. is losing almost 4 percent, while IHI Corp., Showa Shell Sekiyu and JXTG Holdings are all down more than 3 percent each.

In economic news, the Bank of Japan said that producer prices in Japan were flat on month in February. That was shy of expectations for an increase of 0.2 percent and down from 0.3 percent in January.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the lower 106 yen-range on Tuesday.

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

On Wall Street, stocks closed mixed on Monday after seeing initial strength as traders continued to react positively to the monthly jobs data released last Friday. However, traders seemed reluctant to continue pushing stocks higher amid a lack of major U.S. economic data on the day.

While the tech-heavy Nasdaq rose 27.51 points or 0.4 percent to a new record closing high of 7,588.32, the Dow fell 157.13 points or 0.6 percent to 25,178.61 and the S&P 500 dipped 3.55 points or 0.1 percent to 2,783.02.

The major European markets also turned in a mixed performance on Monday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index edged down by 0.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index closed just above the unchanged line, and the German DAX Index advanced by 0.6 percent.

Crude oil prices fell Monday ahead of the closely-watched U.S. inflation data that may set the stage for interest rate hikes. April WTI oil lost $0.68 or 1.1 percent to settle at $61.36 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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