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Asian Markets Mixed Amid Cautious Trades

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Asian stock markets are mixed on Thursday despite the positive cues overnight from Wall Street, with investors reading cautiously as they hoped for progress in the U.S.-China trade talks currently underway in Beijing. Investors also looked ahead to China's trade data for the month of January due later in the day.

The South China Morning post reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Friday, adding to optimism about the trade talks.

The Australian market is rising following the positive cues from Wall Street and as investors digested a raft of earnings results from major local companies.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 14.80 points or 0.24 percent to 6,078.40, after rising to a high of 6,093.60 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 16.00 points or 0.26 percent to 6,156.20. Australian stocks gave up early gains to close lower on Wednesday.

Among the major miners, BHP Group and Rio Tinto are adding more than 1 percent each, while Fortescue Metals is higher by almost 1 percent.

South32 recorded an 18 percent increase in first-half underlying profit and raised the production outlook for the full year for its Illawarra Metallurgical coal project. The mining company's shares are gaining more than 4 percent.

In the oil sector, Santos is higher by more than 1 percent and Oil Search is advancing almost 1 percent after crude oil prices extended gains overnight.

Woodside Petroleum's shares are rising more than 2 percent after the oil and gas producer reported an increase in full-year profit, though it missed analysts' expectations, and raised its final dividend.

The big four banks are mixed. ANZ Banking is adding 0.2 percent and National Australia Bank is rising 0.3 percent, while Westpac is down 0.2 percent and Commonwealth Bank is declining 0.6 percent.

Shares of AMP are losing more than 4 percent after the wealth manager reported a 97 percent fall in full-year profit.

Suncorp's shares are declining almost 4 percent after the insurance provider said its profit for the first half fell 45 percent from last year and it expects to spend an additional A$50 million to address regulatory issues raised by the royal commission.

Gold miners are weak even as gold prices edged higher overnight. Evolution Mining is declining more than 2 percent and Newcrest Mining is losing almost 2 percent.

Newcrest Mining reported a profit for the first half that more than doubled on record gold and copper output at its Cadia operations.

Telstra reported a 28 percent decline in first-half profit and cut its interim dividend. The telecom giant's shares are losing almost 1 percent.

Treasury Wine Estate's shares are rising more than 3 percent after the winemaker reported a 15 percent in first-half profit.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is lower against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. The local currency was quoted at $0.7087, down from $0.7130 on Wednesday.

The Japanese market is modestly higher in choppy trade following the positive cues from Wall Street and on a weaker yen. Investors also digested data that showed Japan's economy returned to growth in the fourth quarter, though it missed estimates.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 35.27 points or 0.17 percent to 21,179.75, after touching a low of 21,102.16 earlier. Japanese shares rose sharply to hit a nearly two-month high on Wednesday.

The major exporters are mostly higher on a weaker yen. Sony is adding almost 1 percent, Panasonic is rising 0.3 percent and Canon is up 0.2 percent, while Mitsubishi Electric is down 0.2 percent.

Shares of Toshiba are down 0.3 percent after the conglomerate reported an increase in profit for the nine-month period, but lowered its earnings outlook for the full year.

In the tech sector, Advantest and Tokyo Electron are higher by more than 1 percent each.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is rising 0.2 percent and Honda is higher by more than 1 percent. In the banking space, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is declining 0.5 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is down 0.3 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is losing more than 2 percent, while Japan Petroleum is higher by more than 2 percent.

Among the other major gainers, Citizen Watch is rising more than 5 percent, while Ebara, Shimizu, Kajima and JGC Corp. are all higher by more than 3 percent each.

On the flip side, Chiyoda Corp. is losing more than 7 percent, Pacific Metals is declining more than 6 percent and Sapporo Holdings is lower by more than 4 percent.

On the economic front, the Cabinet Office said that Japan's gross domestic product expanded a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2018. That was shy of expectations for a gain of 0.4 percent following the 0.6 percent contraction in the three months prior.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 110 yen-range on Thursday.

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

On Wall Street, stocks closed modestly higher on Wednesday in volatile trade, partly reflecting optimism about avoiding another government shutdown, as President Donald Trump said he was "not happy" with a tentative deal reached by lawmakers but did not specifically reject the proposal. The markets also benefited from continued optimism about U.S.-China trade talks after Trump indicated he is willing to delay raising tariffs on Chinese goods if the two sides are close to a deal.

The Dow climbed 117.51 points or 0.5 percent to 25,543.27, the Nasdaq inched up 5.76 points or 0.1 percent to 7,420.38 and the S&P 500 rose 8.30 points or 0.3 percent to 2,753.03.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on Wednesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index advanced by 0.8 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index both rose by 0.4 percent.

Crude oil prices rose on Wednesday after top exporter Saudi Arabia promised deeper crude output cuts and industry data showed a decline in U.S. oil inventories. WTI crude for March delivery advanced $0.80 or 1.5 percent to close at $53.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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