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Asian Markets Mixed Amid Cautious Trades


Asian stock markets are mixed on Wednesday despite U.S. stocks closing higher overnight for a third consecutive session. Investors are cautious as they look ahead to a report on U.S. consumer price inflation due on Wednesday to assess the likelihood for a faster pace of interest rate hike by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The Australian market is edging lower after rising in early trades following the positive cues overnight from Wall Street for a third consecutive session. Investors remained cautious as they digest local corporate earnings results.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is declining 6.80 points or 0.12 percent to 5,849.10, after rising to a high of 5,868.10 in early trades. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 9.30 points or 0.16 percent to 5,947.70. Australian shares rebounded in thin trade and closed higher on Tuesday.

Among the major miners, BHP Billiton is adding 0.2 percent and Fortescue Metals is 0.1 percent, while Rio Tinto is declining 0.4 percent.

Gold miners are mixed. Newcrest Mining is down 0.4 percent, while Evolution Mining is rising 0.5 percent after gold futures edged higher overnight.

The big four banks are weak. ANZ Banking, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and National Australia Bank are lower in a range of 0.1 percent to 0.9 percent.

Insurance Australia Group recorded a 23.5 percent increase in its first-half profit and said it expects to report further improvement in its underlying performance in the second half of the year. The insurance giant's shares are rising almost 3 percent.

Oil stocks are also lower after crude oil prices edged lower overnight. Santos is lower by almost 1 percent and Oil Search is down 0.7 percent.

Woodside Petroleum announced a A$2.5 billion rights share raising after agreeing to acquire an additional 50 percent stake in the Scarborough field. The energy giant also reported an 18 percent increase in full-year profit. The company's shares are in a trading halt.

Myer Holdings chief executive Richard Umbers has stepped down from the helm of the struggling department store and its chairman Garry Hounsell has been named executive chairman, while a search for a new CEO takes place. Shares of Myer are advancing more than 4 percent.

Domino's Pizza Enterprises reported a 17 percent increase in first-half profit, but slightly lowered its sales guidance for its Australia and New Zealand stores. The fast food chain's shares are losing more than 8 percent.

Shares of Orora are higher by more than 2 percent after the beverage packaging business said its half-year profit rose almost 13 percent from last year.

Shares of CSL are gaining almost 6 percent after the vaccine and blood products supplier reported a 35 percent increase in its half-year profit.

On the economic front, the latest survey from Westpac Bank that consumer confidence in Australia remained optimistic in February, albeit to a lesser degree. The index fell 2.3 percent to a score of 203.7.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar slipped against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday amid weakness in commodities. The local unit was quoted at US$0.7857, down from US$0.7864 on Tuesday.

The Japanese market is drifting lower after opening higher following the overnight gains on Wall Street. A stronger yen is weighing on shares of exporters. In addition, investors digested weaker-than-expected Japanese GDP data for the fourth quarter of 2017.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is down 66.71 points or 0.31 percent to 21,177.97, after rising to a high of 21,371.01 earlier. Japanese shares gave up initial gains to end lower on Tuesday.

The major exporters are mostly lower. Panasonic is declining more than 1 percent, Mitsubishi Electric is lower by 0.6 percent and Canon is edging down less than 0.1 percent, while Sony is adding 0.2 percent. SoftBank is down more than 1 percent.

Among automakers, Toyota is declining 0.5 percent and Honda is down 0.2 percent. In the banking sector, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is adding 0.2 percent and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is edging up less than 0.1 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is adding 1 percent and Japan Petroleum Exploration is higher by more than 2 percent despite a dip in crude oil prices overnight.

Fujifilm's shares are losing almost 3 percent after Xerox shareholder Darwin Deason filed a lawsuit against Xerox, alleging that the U.S. photocopier maker's board failed shareholders by approving a merger deal with Fujifilm that undervalued the company.

Among the market's best performers, Japan Steel Works is gaining more than 14 percent, Tokai Carbon is rising more than 13 percent and Screen Holdings is advancing more than 8 percent.

On the flip side, Mitsubishi Materials is losing more than 7 percent, DeNA Co. is lower by almost 5 percent, and Mitsui Mining & Smelting is down more than 3 percent.

In economic news, the Cabinet Office said in Wednesday's preliminary reading that Japan's gross domestic product added a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2017. That was shy of expectations for a gain of 0.2 percent and down from 0.6 percent in the third quarter.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 107 yen-range on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai and New Zealand are also lower, while South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong are higher. The markets in Taiwan remain closed for the long Lunar New Year break.

On Wall Street, stocks closed higher on Tuesday as traders looked ahead to the release of reports on consumer prices and retail sales on Wednesday. The data is likely to have a significant impact on how traders perceive the Federal Reserve will act regarding future interest rate hikes.

The Dow edged up 39.18 points or 0.2 percent to 24,640.45, the Nasdaq advanced 31.55 points or 0.5 percent to 7,013.51 and the S&P 500 rose 6.94 points or 0.3 percent to 2,662.94.

The major European markets moved to the downside on Tuesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index edged down by 0.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index fell by 0.6 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively.

Crude oil futures were steady Tuesday, but unable to recoup recent losses. Analysts point to a surge in U.S. shale oil production as the cause of oil's retreat from 4-year highs above $66. WTI crude for March dipped $0.10 or 0.2 percent to close at $59.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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