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Asian Markets Mostly Higher

asiancommentary jan18 25mar20 lt

Asian stock markets are mostly higher on Thursday as investors await the passage of a $2 trillion stimulus package in the U.S. to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Investors are also looking ahead to a report on weekly U.S. jobless claims scheduled to be released later in the day, as it will be among the first data points to reflect the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Australian market is rising for a third straight day after the White House and Senate leaders in the U.S. agreed to a massive $2 trillion stimulus bill overnight to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Investors also digested announcements by local companies of COVID-19 related job losses and weak earnings.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is advancing 79.20 points or 1.58 percent to 5,077.30, after rising to a high of 5,129.30 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is rising 89.30 points or 1.78 percent to 5,095.50. Australian stocks closed sharply higher on Wednesday amid a broad-based rally.

Among the major miners, Rio Tinto is rising more than 5 percent and Fortescue Metals is higher by more than 2 percent, while BHP is down 0.2 percent.

Gold miners are lower after safe-haven gold prices declined overnight. Evolution Mining is losing almost 4 percent and Newcrest Mining is down almost 1 percent.

In the banking sector, National Australia Bank is higher by almost 1 percent, ANZ Banking is adding 0.3 percent and Westpac is edging up 0.1 percent, while Commonwealth Bank is declining more than 1 percent.

In the oil space, Oil Search is gaining more than 7 percent and Santos is rising 4 percent, while Woodside Petroleum is down 0.2 percent after crude oil prices rose about 2 percent overnight.

Virgin Australia said that more than 1,000 of the 8,000 workers asked to stand down from their jobs are likely to be made redundant. The airline's shares are gaining almost 10 percent.

Flight Centre Travel Group said an initial 6,000 of its sales and support staff globally will either be stood down or made redundant amid the coronavirus pandemic. The travel company's shares are rising more than 4 percent.

Brickworks reported that its statutory net profit for the first half of the year fell 49 percent amid a slowdown in building activity across Australia. The building materials maker's shares are gaining almost 7 percent.

The competition watchdog, the ACCC, has given approval to the proposed A$40 million merger of Australian Women's Weekly publisher Bauer Media and Pacific Magazines, the magazine arm of Seven West Media. Shares of Seven West Media are higher by almost 6 percent.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar was lower against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. The local unit was quoted at $0.5905, compared to $0.6033 on Wednesday.

The Japanese market is tumbling following the mixed cues from Wall Street and as investors turned cautious after the Tokyo governor requested residents to stay at home on weekends amid the coronavirus outbreak.

A report by the Nikkei Asian Review that tech giant Apple is considering delaying the launch of its 5G iPhone by "months" weighed on shares of Apple's Japanese suppliers. The delay is reportedly due to issues related to consumer demand amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 878.16 points or 4.49 percent to 18,668.47, after touching a low of 18,643.13 earlier. Japanese shares posted strong gains on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, market heavyweight SoftBank is losing more than 10 percent after a rating downgrade by Moody's Investors Service and Fast Retailing is falling more than 9 percent.

The major exporters are notably lower on a stronger yen. Canon is falling almost 8 percent, Panasonic is losing 3 percent Sony is declining more than 2 percent, and Mitsubishi Electric is down almost 1 percent.

In the oil sector, Inpex and Japan Petroleum are losing more than 6 percent each after crude oil prices declined 2 percent overnight.

In the tech space, Advantest is lower by more than 4 percent and Tokyo Electron is down more than 2 percent. Among Apple's suppliers, Murata Manufacturing is tumbling more than 5 percent and Taiyo Yuden is losing more than 4 percent.

Among the major gainers, Nichirei Corp is advancing more than 4 percent, while Unitika and Nissan Chemical are rising more than 2 percent each.

On the flip side, Nippon Steel and Tokyo Fudosan are tumbling almost 9 percent each, while Toho Zinc is lower by almost 8 percent.

In economic news, the Bank of Japan said that producer prices in Japan were up 2.1 percent on year in February. That was shy of expectations for an annual increase of 2.2 percent and down from 2.3 percent in January.

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

Elsewhere in Asia, Indonesia is gaining 7 percent and New Zealand is rising more than 4 percent, while South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia are modestly higher. Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong are lower.

On Wall Street, stocks closed mixed on Wednesday after moving higher earlier in the session. The Dow held on to a strong gain partly due to a substantial advance by shares of Boeing and Nike. The late-day pullback came amid a dispute between Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and several Republican Senators that could delay a massive stimulus package. Sanders said he is prepared to put a hold on the legislation unless the GOP Senators drop their objections to fast-tracking the bill over a provision that would increase maximum unemployment benefits by $600 a week for four months.

While the Nasdaq fell 33.56 points or 0.5 percent to 7,384.30, the Dow surged up 495.64 points or 2.4 percent to 21,200.55 and the S&P 500 jumped 28.23 points or 1.2 percent to 2,475.56.

The major European markets also finished a volatile session showing strong moves to the upside. While the German DAX Index jumped by 1.8 percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the French CAC 40 Index both spiked by 4.5 percent.

Crude oil prices moved higher on Wednesday, following a rally in gasoline futures due to a decline in weekly gasoline inventories. Optimism about the passage of the massive $2 trillion stimulus bill also contributed to oil's rise in the session. WTI crude for May ended up $0.48, or about 2 percent, at $24.49 a barrel.

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