Asian Market Commentary
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Asian Markets Mostly Trade In Negative Territory

Despite a positive lead from Wall Street where stocks moved higher overnight amid some upbeat economic data from China, Asian stock markets are mostly trading lower on Friday with investors treading cautiously ahead of key earnings reports. Profit taking after recent gains is also contributing to the weakness in some of the markets in the region.

The Australian stock market opened higher, but retreated subsequently with mining stocks turning weak on selling pressure.

Healthcare and industrial stocks are among the other notable losers. Consumer discretionary and information technology stocks are edging higher, while financial, energy and property trusts stocks are mostly flat.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index, which advanced to 4,734.6 in early trades, is currently trading at 4,709, down 14 points or 0.3 percent from its previous close. The broader All Ordinaries index is down 12.4 points or 0.3 percent at 4,732.8, around 25 points off the day's high of 4,757.2.

Top miners BHP Billiton (BHP, BBL) and Rio Tinto (RIO, RIO.L) are down by around 1.8 percent.

Sydney Airport is down 5.2 percent. Iluka Resources, Fortescue Metals, Atlas Iron, Centro Retail Australia, David Jones, Lynas Corp., Whitehaven Coal and Downer EDI are trading lower by 2 to 3.5 percent.

Spark Infrastructure Group, Monadelphous Group, Incitec Pivot and Aristocrat Leisure are trading lower by 1.5 to 2 percent.

Transurban is down 0.8 percent. The company announced that toll revenue for the three months to December 31, 2012, was up 4.9 percent at A$202.6 million, as compared to the corresponding quarter last year. That took toll revenue for the first half of 2012-2013 to A$397.7 million, up 3.1 percent from the previous corresponding period.

Among bank stocks, ANZ Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac (WBK) are up 0.3 to 0.5 percent, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia is trading flat. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank and Bank of Queensland are up 0.3 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

Alumina (AWC), Myer Holdings, Commonwealth Property Office Fund and Perseus Mining are up 1.8 to 2.6 percent.

Seek Limited shares are trading nearly 4 percent up on reports the company is increasing its stake in Chinese employment website Zhaopin.

Seek said it will buy Zhaopin shares from Macquarie and other exiting shareholders for A$99.52 million to take its ownership level from 55.5 percent to 72.3 percent. The company will then launch an offer to other Zhaopin shareholders that could further increase its ownership to about 79 percent.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar opened higher and was quoting at US$1.0595 in early trades, up from Thursday's close of US$1.0549.

The Japanese stock market opened sharply higher with investors going on a buying spree, buoyed by the cabinet approval for an economic stimulus, a stronger U.S. dollar and some upbeat economic data from China. The overnight positive close on Wall Street too aided sentiment to a significant extent.

Automobile, chemicals, steel, non-ferrous metals, financial and precision instruments posted strong gains. Foods, electric power and retail stocks traded mixed.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index, which rose to 10,830.4 in early trades, was up 127.8 points or 1.2 percent at 10,780.5, when the morning session ended.

Sharp Corp., the biggest gainer in the Nikkei index, was up nearly 10 percent. Tokyo Electric Power gained more than 6 percent and Yokogawa Electric Corp. moved up by nearly 6 percent.

Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding, Dentsu Inc., Casio Computer, Tokio Marine, Astellas Pharma, Konica Minolta Holdings, T&D Holdings, MS&AD Insurance and Olympus Corp. gained 4 to 5 percent.

Fast Retailing, JFE Holdings, Panasonic Corp. (PC), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsui OSK Lines, Showa Denko KK, Daikin Industries, Fujifilm Holdings and Dainippon Screen Manufacturing also rose sharply.

Automobile stocks Mazda Motor, Nissan Motor, Suzuki Motor and Toyota Motor (TM) and banking stocks Mizuho Financial (MFG), Mitsubishi UFJ Financial (MTU), Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and Chiba Bank gained 1 to 3 percent.

Meanwhile, KDDI Corp., Toyobo Co., Tokai Carbon, Fujikura, Mitsubishi Motors and Kobe Steel lost ground and were trading lower by 1 to 2 percent at the break.

On the economic front, Japan posted a current account deficit of 222.4 billion yen in November, the Ministry of Finance said on Friday - marking the first shortfall in 10 months and adding to the case for additional stimulus. The headline figure was well shy of forecasts for a shortfall of 17.1 billion yen following the 376.9 billion yen surplus in October.

The trade balance reflected a deficit of 847.5 billion yen - also missing expectations for a deficit of 832.0 billion yen after showing a shortfall of 450.3 billion yen in the previous month.

Exports were down 4.2 percent on year to 4,778.9 billion yen after showing 4,946.6 billion yen a month earlier. Imports added an annual 0.8 percent to 5,626.3 billion yen after coming in at 5,396.9 billion yen in October.

The adjusted current account saw a surplus of 225.9 billion yen, missing expectations for a surplus of 277.4 billion yen after coming in at 414.1 billion in the previous month.

Meanwhile, overall bank lending in Japan was up 1.4 percent on year in December at 401.279 trillion yen, the Bank of Japan said. That topped forecasts for an increase of 1.1 percent following the downwardly revised 1.2 percent gain in November (originally 1.3 percent).

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded about 89 yen level in early deals in Tokyo. The yen is currently trading at 88.86 to the dollar.

Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea are trading notably lower. Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan are down marginally, while Indonesia and New Zealand are up with modest gains.

On Wall Street, stocks ended higher on Thursday, thanks largely to upbeat trade data from China. While the Dow rose 80.7 points or 0.6 percent to 13,471.2, the Nasdaq climbed 16 points or 0.5 percent to 3,121.8 and the S&P 500 advanced 11.1 points or 0.8 percent to 1,472.1.

Major European markets turned in a mixed performance on Thursday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index edged up 0.1 percent, the German DAX index and the French CAC 40 index declined by 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

U.S. crude oil ended higher on Thursday, with strong Chinese trade data aiding its surge. Crude for February delivery ended up 72 cents at $93.82 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

by RTT Staff Writer

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