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Asian Markets Mixed Amid Cautious Trade

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Asian stock markets are mixed amid cautious trading on Wednesday, following negative cues overnight from Wall Street, as traders are uncertain about the near-term outlook for the markets following recent strength. Traders also continue to weigh the impact of a surge in coronavirus cases and extension of lockdown restrictions in several markets. Asian markets closed mixed on Tuesday.

However, the IMF opened its spring meetings on Tuesday by forecasting the strongest global expansion in at least four decades for this year.

Traders are also looking ahead to the release of the minutes of the Federal Reserve's latest monetary policy meeting on Wednesday, potentially shedding additional light on the outlook for interest rates.

The Australian stock market is modestly higher on Wednesday, extending gains of the previous session, with the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 just above the 6,900 level at six-week highs, following gains in technology, mining and energy stocks on the back of upbeat local data.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is gaining 13.00 points or 0.19 percent to 6,898.90, after touching a high of 6,932.70 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is higher by 14.40 points or 0.20 percent to 7,148.30. Australian stocks ended higher on Tuesday.

Among major miners, BHP Group, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals are all up almost 1 percent each.

In the tech space, Appen and WiseTech Global are gaining almost 1 percent, while Afterpay is up almost 4 percent.

Among the big four banks, ANZ Banking, Westpac and National Australia Bank are edging down 0.2 percent each, while Commonwealth Bank is edging up 0.1 percent.

Westpac says its plan developed in response to a court-enforceable undertaking to submit an integrated plan for fixing risk governance problems has been approved by the banking regulator.

Gold miners are higher after the gold price climbed. Evolution Mining and Newcrest Mining are up almost 1 percent each, while Northern Star Resources is gaining more than 2 percent. Resolute Mining and Perseus mining are advancing more than 5 percent each.

Oil stocks are higher, with Oil Search and Santos adding almost 1 percent, while Woodside Petroleum is edging up 0.4 percent.

Shares in EML Payments are surging almost 9 percent following news it would be entering the European open banking market with the acquisition of Sentenial Limited and its wholly-owned subsidiaries, including its open banking product Nuapay.

In economic news, the services sector in Australia continued to expand in March, and at a faster pace, the latest survey from Markit Economics revealed on Wednesday with a services PMI score of 55.5. That's up from 53.4 in February, and it moves further above the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction. The survey also showed that its composite index climbed to 55.5 in March as well - up from 53.7 a month earlier.

Separately, the construction sector in Australia continued to expand in March, and at a faster rate, the latest survey from the Australian Industry Group showed on Wednesday with a seasonally adjusted Performance of Construction Index score of 61.8. That's up from 57.4 in February and it moves further above the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

In the currency market, the Aussie dollar is trading at $0.765 on Wednesday.

The Japanese stock market is modestly lower in choppy trading on Wednesday, with the benchmark Nikkei index hovering around the 29,700 level, following negative cues overnight from Wall Street.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed the morning session at 29,685.77, down 10.86 points or 0.04 percent, after touching a high of 29,867.94 and a low of 29,523.55 earlier in choppy trading. Japanese stocks closed lower on Tuesday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group is up almost 1 percent, while Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing is down almost 2 percent. Among automakers, Honda is edging down 0.1 percent, while Toyota is up almost 1 percent.

In the tech space, Tokyo Electron is down almost 1 percent, while Screen Holdings is adding more than 1 percent and Advantest is up almost 1 percent. In the banking sector, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is edging down 0.4 percent and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is declining almost 1 percent.

Among the major exporters, Panasonic is losing 0.5 percent, Sony is declining almost 1 percent and Mitsubishi Electric is edging down 0.2 percent, while Canon is edging up 0.2 percent.

Among the other major gainers, NEC is adding almost 6 percent, Isuzu Motor is gaining more than 5 percent and Yamato Holdings is up almost 4 percent. Fuji Electric, Nippon Sheet Glass and Asahi Goup are up more than 3 percent each.

Conversely, Alps Alpine is losing almost 4 percent, while Takeda Pharmaceutical and Nexon are down almost 3 percent each. Nomura Holdings, Dai-ichi Life Holdings, Me and Hitachi Zosen are all declining more than 2 percent each.

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

Elsewhere in Asia, New Zealand, South Korea and Malaysia are all higher by between 0.2 and 0.5 percent each, while Hong Kong is down 0.2 percent, Indonesia is declining 0.2 percent and China is losing 0.7 percent. Markets in Singapore and Taiwan are relatively flat.

On Wall Street, stocks showed a lack of direction over the course of the trading day on Tuesday following the rally seen in the previous session. The major averages spent the day bouncing back and forth across the unchanged line before eventually closing slightly lower.

While the Dow slipped 96.95 points or 0.3 percent to 33,430.24, the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 closed just below the unchanged line. The Nasdaq edged down 7.21 points or 0.1 percent to 13,698.38 and the S&P 500 dipped 3.97 points or 0.1 percent to 4,073.94.

Meanwhile, the major European markets all moved to the upside on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index surged up by 1.3 percent, the German DAX Index climbed by 0.8 percent and the French CAC 40 Index rose by 0.5 percent.

Crude oil prices moved higher on Tuesday, riding a weaker U.S. dollar. West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for May ended higher by $0.68 or 1.2 percent at $59.33 a barrel.

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