Asian Markets Mostly Lower Cautious Trade

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Asian stock markets are trading mostly lower on Friday, ignoring the positive cues overnight from Wall Street, as lingering worries over rising spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus in several parts across the world rendered the mood cautious. The markets are supported mainly by crude oil prices as they continue to recover from the recent selling-off. Asian markets ended mostly higher on Thursday.

Australian stock market is slightly higher after early losses on Friday, extending the gains in the previous two sessions, with the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 staying just below the 7,400 level, following the positive cues overnight from Wall Street. Traders also remain concerned amid the rapid spread of the highly contagious coronavirus variants in four states and some regional areas, with lockdowns in three of the country's major cities limiting economic activity.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is gaining 9.80 points or 0.13 percent to 7,396.20, after hitting a low of 7,357.00 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 14.50 points or 0.19 percent to 7,673.40. Australian markets ended modestly higher on Thursday.

Among major miners, BHP Group is edging down 0.2 percent, while Rio Tinto and OZ Minerals are losing 0.5 percent each. Mineral Resources is edging up 0.4 percent. Fortescue Metals is flat.

Oil stocks are mixed. Oil Search is losing more than 1 percent, while Woodside Petroleum and Beach energy are edging down 0.4 percent each. Santos is down almost 2 percent, while Origin Energy is edging up 0.2 percent.

Among tech stocks, Xero is gaining almost 2 percent, WiseTech Global is adding almost 1 percent and Appen is up more than 2 percent. Afterpay is rising almost 3 percent.

Shares in Zip are gaining more than 3 percent after reports that the buy now, pay later (BNPL) firm is looking to provide users a chance to trade in cryptocurrencies as it braces for competition from Apple and PayPal.

Among the big four banks, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ Banking and Westpac are all losing almost 1 percent each.

Gold miners are mostly lower. Newcrest Mining is edging down 0.1 percent, while Resolute Mining and Gold Road Resources are down more than 2 percent each. Northern Star Resources is losing almost 5 percent, while Evolution Mining is gaining more than 4 percent.

In other news, Australian casino operator Star Entertainment Group has withdrawn a $9 billion merger proposal with beleaguered rival Crown Resorts, on fears that it could lose the main licence to operate its Melbourne casino. Crown Resorts stock is down more than 2 percent.

In economic news, the services sector in Australia fell hard into contraction territory in July, the latest survey from Markit Economics revealed on Friday with a 14-month low services PMI score of 44.2. That's down sharply from 56.8 in June and it moves well beneath the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction. The survey also showed that Australia's manufacturing PMI fell from 58.6 in June to 56.8 in July. The composite PMI slumped to 45.2 from 56.7 in the previous month.

In the currency market, the Aussie dollar is trading at $0.738 on Friday.

The Japanese stock market is closed for a long weekend on Thursday and Friday for public holidays, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics opening ceremony on Friday. Japanese shares ended significantly higher on Wednesday.

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

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong is losing 1 percent, while New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Singapore are all lower by between 0.1 and 0.5 percent each. South Korea is bucking the trend and is up 0.2 percent, while Taiwan is relatively flat.

On Wall Street, stocks showed a lack of direction over much of the trading day on Thursday before ending the session modestly higher. With the uptick on the day, the major averages extended the rebound seen over the two previous sessions.

The major averages all finished the day in positive territory but off their highs of the session. The Dow inched up 25.35 points or 0.1 percent to 34,823.35, the Nasdaq rose 52.64 points or 0.4 percent to 14,684.60 and the S&P 500 edged up 8.79 points or 0.2 percent to 4,367.48.

Meanwhile, the major European markets turned in a mixed performance on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index fell by 0.4 percent, the French CAC 40 Index edged up by 0.3 percent and the German DAX Index climbed by 0.6 percent.

Crude oil futures settled higher on Thursday, gaining for a third successive day, thanks to reports showing strong gasoline demand and a rebound in distillate fuels. West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures for September ended up $1.61 or 2.3 percent at $71.91 a barrel.

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