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Asian Shares Fall On Middle East Tensions

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Asian stocks closed broadly lower on Thursday as concerns over possible U.S. military action in Syria and hawkish statements from the Federal Reserve dented investors' risk appetite.

Traders also awaited cues from the U.S. earnings season which kicks off with a bang on Friday as some of the largest banks and financial services companies report their earnings.

China's Shanghai Composite index fell 27.92 points or 0.87 percent to 3,180.16 amid rising Middle East tensions, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 0.36 percent in late trade.

China's foreign direct investment increased slightly in March, the Ministry of Commerce said. Foreign direct investment into China rose 0.4 percent year-on-year to CNY 88.14 billion in March. In the first quarter, FDI climbed 0.5 percent.

Japanese shares fell slightly as the dollar sagged against the yen on concerns about possible U.S. military action against Syria. The Nikkei average slid 26.82 points or 0.12 percent to 21,660.28 while the broader Topix index closed 0.39 percent lower at 1,718.52.

Convenience store operator Lawson fell almost 5 percent after the company said its fiscal year operating profit for year ending February 2019 will likely fall by 8.8 percent. On the positive side, Aeon jumped 4 percent after reporting a 14 percent rise in annual profit.

Japan Petroleum jumped 3 percent after oil prices hit their highest level in more than three years overnight. Japan's Fast Retailing rallied 2.1 percent. The Uniqlo owner today raised its annual profit forecast after reporting a 35 percent increase in second-quarter operating profit.

Household goods retailer Ryohin Keikaku soared 5.2 percent. The company said it expects an 11 percent rise in its net profit for the year through February 2019.

Australian shares closed modestly lower after Trump warned of imminent U.S. military action in Syria. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index dropped 13.20 points or 0.23 percent to 5,815.50 while the broader All Ordinaries index ended down 14.40 points or 0.24 percent at 5,911.40.

The big four banks fell between 0.3 percent and 0.8 percent while miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto rose 0.7 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.

Energy stocks also closed broadly higher after oil prices hit their highest level since late-2014 on Wednesday. Oil Search, Origin Energy and Beach Energy rallied 1-2 percent.

Industrial stocks came under selling pressure, with Brambles ending down 1.7 percent and Transurban Group losing 1.5 percent. Baby food maker Bubs Australia soared 9.2 percent after unveiling its latest quarterly update.

Seoul stocks ended a choppy session lower, reflecting an uptick in geopolitical tensions. The benchmark Kospi ended marginally lower at 2,442.71 on institutional selling. Korean Air slumped 6.6 percent and its smaller rival Asiana Airlines lost 2.8 percent, facing pressure from oil's relentless march upwards.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Korea kept interest rates steady, as widely expected, citing muted inflation and an escalating trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

New Zealand shares fell notably, dragged down by consumer staple, healthcare and oil & gas stocks. The benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index dropped 49.50 points or 0.59 percent to 8,404.22.

Fisher & Paykel Healthcare lost 2.7 percent and a2 Milk declined 1.9 percent.
New Zealand Oil and Gas shed 2.4 percent following the government's decision to not grant any new permits for offshore oil and gas exploration.

On the data front, total retail card spending in New Zealand increased in the three months ended March, driven by grocery and liquor spending, figures from Statistics New Zealand showed.

Singapore's Straits Times index was moving down 0.3 percent. The country's retail sales fell a seasonally adjusted 1.7 percent month-on-month in February, reversing a 4.9 percent rise in January, figures from the Department of Statistics revealed. Economists had expected a 4.2 percent increase for the month.

Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was down as much as 1 percent, Malaysia's KLSE Composite was declining 0.1 percent and the Taiwan Weighted dropped 0.2 percent while India's Sensex was rising 0.4 percent to extend gains for the sixth straight session.

Overnight, U.S. stocks pulled back amid geopolitical concerns after President Donald Trump warned Russia to "get ready" for missiles being launched at Syria.

On the data front, U.S. consumer inflation rose at the fastest annual pace in 12 months in March, while the minutes of the Federal Reserve's March monetary policy meeting sparked worries about a more hawkish view on interest rate increases.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.9 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite shed 0.4 percent and the S&P 500 declined 0.6 percent.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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