Despite a positive lead from Wall Street, Asian stock markets are mostly trading lower on Wednesday with investors pressing sales amid speculation the U.S. will launch a military strike on Syria.
The Australian market is trading weak, with concerns about Syria and a weak report on Australian services sector activity contributing to the decline. Consumer staples, financials and healthcare stocks are mostly trading weak. Energy and mining stocks are also exhibiting weakness.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index is down 41.2 points or 0.8 percent at 5,155.4. The broader All Ordinaries index is trading at 5,149.5, down 39.4 points or 0.8 percent from its previous close.
Among bank stocks, ANZ Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac (WBK) are down 0.7 to 1 percent. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank and Bank of Queensland are also trading notably lower.
Among top miners, BHP Billiton (BHP) is down 0.6 percent, Rio Tinto is down marginally and Fortescue Metals is trading lower by over 2 percent, while Newcrest Mining is up with a gain of 0.7 percent.
In the energy sector, Caltex Australia is losing about 4 percent, Origin Energy is down nearly a percent, Oil Search is down 1.1 percent and Woodside Petroleum is down marginally, while Santos is trading 0.5 percent up.
Atlas Iron, Iluka Resources, Ramsay Healthcare, Oz Minerals, Sonic Healthcare, Tatts Group and Aurora Oil & Gas are down 2 to 4 percent. Qantas Airways, News Corp. (NWS), Twenty-First Century Fox, Federation Centres, APA Group, Primary Healthcare and Westfield Group are also down sharply.
Meanwhile, Monadelphous Group, UGL and Regis Resources are trading higher, gaining 2 to 2.8 percent.
On the economic front, Australia's gross domestic economy expanded by a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent in the second quarter of 2013 compared to the previous three months, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday. That was unchanged from the previous quarter, but it beat forecasts for an increase of 0.5 percent.
On a yearly basis, GDP was up 2.6 percent versus forecasts for 2.4 percent after adding 2.5 percent in the previous three months.
Meanwhile, the services sector of Australia's economy contacted further in August, according to survey results released by the Australian Industry Group. AIG said its Performance of Services index fell to 39.0 from a July reading of 39.4.
The August reading was the lowest since the global financial crisis, said AIG. The organization said a 5.5 point improvement in the new orders category was not enough to offset steeper contractions in employment and supplier deliveries of 9.0 points.
In the currency market, the Australian dollar hit a two-week high against the U.S. dollar following the central bank keeping rates unchanged and issuing a neutral statement on the chance of further cuts. Around noon, the local unit was quoting at US$0.9092, up more than 0.6 percent from Tuesday's close of US$0.9034.
The Japanese stock market is trading notably lower with investors indulging in some profit taking after the previous session's strong gains. Worries about the conflict in Syria and a likely U.S. military intervention there are also contributing to the weakness in the market.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index, which declined to 13,843.6, was down 106.1 points or 0.8 percent 13,872.3 when the morning session ended.
Tokyo Electric Power, Hino Motors, Isuzu Motors, Mitsubishi Motors, Konami Corp., Fujikura, Casio Computer and Kansai Electric Power lost 2 to 5 percent.
Shares of Fast Retailing Co. declined more than 2.5 percent despite an announcement from the company that domestic same-store sales at its Uniqlo casual clothing chain rose as much as 29 percent in August.
Shionogi, Advantest Corp. (ATE), T&D Holdings, Japan Tobacco, J Front Retailing, Sumitomo Electric Industries, Yahoo Japan Corp. and Furukawa Electric also declined sharply.
Among the gainers, Canon Inc. (CAJ) rose nearly 4 percent. Nisshin Steel Holdings is up more than 6 percent after the company said it plans to spend up to 50 billion yen to buy back its own shares.
Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha gained over 3 percent, Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding surged up 2.2 percent and Showa Shell Sekiyu KK moved up 2 percent. Kobe Steel, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., UBE Industries, Tokyo Dome and Mitsui OSK Lines also posted notable gains.
In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded in the mid-99 yen range in early deals in Tokyo. The yen is currently trading at 99.55 to the U.S. dollar.
Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan are trading notably lower. Shanghai and South Korea are down with modest losses, while New Zealand is trading flat.
On Wall Street, stocks ended mostly higher on Tuesday despite closing off their best levels of the day. Lingering concerns about the situation in Syria and the outlook for the Federal Reserve's stimulus program limited the upside for the markets.
The Dow edged up 23.7 points or 0.2 percent to 14,834, the Nasdaq climbed 22.7 points or 0.6 percent to 3,612.6 and the S&P 500 rose 6.8 points or 0.4 percent to 1,639.8.
Major European markets ended lower on Tuesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index declined 0.6 percent, the French CAC 40 index and the German DAX index both ended the day down by 0.8 percent.
U.S. crude oil snapped a three-day loss to end higher on Tuesday, on the back of some upbeat manufacturing activity data out of the U.S. and China. The developments over military action against Syria also contributed to the uptick in oil prices.
Crude for October delivery gained $0.89 or 0.8 percent to close at $108.54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
by RTT Staff Writer
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