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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 and higher commodity prices. Investors are cautious after China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, reported a sharp increase in the number of new coronavirus cases.

Hubei province reported an additional 242 deaths and 14,480 new cases related to the coronavirus, as of February 12. However, the province said the increase came after officials adopted a new methodology for counting infections.

The Australian market is rising for a third straight day following the positive cues overnight from Wall Street and on higher commodity prices.

However, gains are modest following news that China's Hubei province reported a sharp increase in new coronavirus cases. Investors also digested mixed local corporate earnings results.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 14.50 points or 0.20 percent to 7,102.70, off a high of 7,145.80 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is advancing 20.00 points or 0.28 percent to 7,205.30.

In the banking space, Westpac is adding more than 1 percent and ANZ Banking is rising 0.2 percent, while Commonwealth Bank is down 0.2 percent.

National Australia Bank reported that its unaudited cash earnings for the first quarter were slightly higher than analysts' estimates, while revenues rose less than 1 percent. The bank's shares are rising more than 2 percent.

AMP reported a net loss for the full year after a A$2.4 billion impairment following the "fee for no service" scandal at the banking royal commission, and said it will not pay a dividend to shareholders. The wealth management company's shares are lower by almost 3 percent.

The major miners are also mostly higher. Rio Tinto is advancing almost 1 percent and BHP is adding 0.3 percent, while Fortescue Metals is declining more than 1 percent.

South32 reported an 80 percent fall in underlying profit for the first half and declared a lower interim dividend compared to the prior year. However, the mining company's shares are rising 0.4 percent.

Oil stocks are also mostly higher after crude oil prices rose overnight. Santos is advancing almost 1 percent and Oil Search is adding 0.4 percent.

Woodside Petroleum reported a nearly 25 percent drop in underlying profit for the full year and reduced its final dividend. The company's shares are down 0.3 percent.

Gold miners are mixed after gold prices edged higher overnight. Newcrest Mining is lower by more than 1 percent and Evolution Mining is rising 2 percent.

Newcrest Mining reported an 18 percent increase in underlying profit for the half year on higher gold prices and a weaker Australian dollar.

AGL Energy said its half-year underlying profit declined more than 19 percent from last year and reduced its interim dividend payout. The power producer's shares are gaining more than 4 percent.

Shares of Caltex Australia are rising more than 3 percent after Alimentation Couche-Tard raised its takeover offer for the company to an indicative price of A$35.25.

Telstra said its first-half profit decreased more than 7 percent on lower revenues, but will keep its interim dividend unchanged and reiterated the upgraded fiscal 2020 outlook announced in September 2019. The telecom company's shares are losing more than 2 percent.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar was quoted at $0.6734 on Thursday, compared to $0.6729 on Wednesday.

The Japanese market is modestly higher in choppy trade following the positive cues from Wall Street. Investor sentiment was dampened after China's Hubei province reported a sharp increase in the number of new coronavirus cases.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 25.48 points or 0.11 percent to 23,886.69, after falling to a low of 23,793.94 earlier. Japanese stocks closed higher on Wednesday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank is adding 0.5 percent after strong gains in the previous session. Fast Retailing is rising more than 2 percent.

In the tech space, Tokyo Electron is advancing more than 1 percent, while Advantest is down 0.3 percent. Among auto stocks, Honda Motor is adding 0.7 percent and Toyota Motor is rising 0.5 percent.

The major exporters are mostly lower despite a slightly weaker yen. Mitsubishi Electric is losing more than 1 percent, Panasonic is declining 0.6 percent and Sony is down 0.2 percent, while Canon is adding 0.3 percent.

In the oil sector, Japan Petroleum is gaining more than 3 percent and Inpex is advancing more than 1 percent after crude oil prices rose overnight.

Among the other major gainers, Mitsui Mining & Smelting is rising more than 8 percent, Tokyo Tatemono is gaining more than 3 percent and Marui Group is advancing more than 2 percent.

Conversely, Ebara Corp. is falling almost 10 percent, Citizen Watch is lower by almost 8 percent and Toppan Printing is losing 7 percent.

In economic news, the Bank of Japan said that producer prices in Japan were up 0.2 percent on month in January. That exceeded expectations for a flat reading following the 0.1 percent increase in December.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 109 yen-range on Thursday.

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

On Wall Street, stocks closed higher on Wednesday as traders seem committed to continuing to push stocks to new record highs despite concerns about the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. While China's National Health Commission reported 2,015 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 97 additional deaths, a recent slowdown in the rate of growth in new infections led to optimism the outbreak is being contained.

The Dow jumped 275.08 points or 0.9 percent to 29,551.42, the Nasdaq advanced 87.02 points or 0.9 percent to 9,725.96 and the S&P 500 climbed 21.70 points or 0.7 percent at 3,379.45.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on Wednesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.5 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index advanced by 0.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

Crude oil prices moved up sharply on Wednesday amid expectations that OPEC and allies will significantly cut crude production, and on reports from China that the number of new infections due to the coronavirus has come down a bit. WTI crude for March gained $1.23 or about 2.5 percent at $51.17 a barrel.

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