Asia markets end mostly lower; China shares post late rebound

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Major Asian stock markets retraced some of their downward slide but closed mostly in negative territory, following a massive sell-off on Wall Street overnight. China bucked the trend, erasing early losses to close up almost 2 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 closed down 474.68 points, or 2.68 percent, at 17,240.95, but that was off lows after the index fell as much as 4.09 percent intraday. Shares were weighed by the commodities and machinery sectors.

South Korea's Kospi ended 16.27 points, or 0.85 percent, lower at 1,900.01.

Down Under, the ASX 200 closed down 78.04 points, or 1.56 percent, at 4,909.40, with energy and financials sectors sharply down. All sectors were in the red except gold producers, which saw an uptick of 3.61 percent.

After a late sell-off Wednesday afternoon, Chinese indexes opened lower. But in afternoon trade, the indexes turned positive, with the Shanghai composite closing up 57.95 points, or 1.96 percent, at 3,007.54, while the Shenzhen composite was up 68.18 points, or 3.80 percent, at 1,859.37.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed down 0.59 percent.

Offering some sign of stability in a generally volatile market, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) set Thursday's yuan mid-point rate at 6.5616, compared with Wednesday's fix of 6.5630. The dollar-yuan pair was nearly flat at 6.5777.

Explosions rock central Jakarta

Explosions and gunfire in central Jakarta in the early afternoon local time sent Indonesia's stocks tumbling. Reports said at least six explosions were heard. According to Indonesian police, three civilians and three police officers were killed in the blasts.

The Jakarta composite fell to a session low of 4,456.46 on news of the explosion before retracing losses to close down 0.53 percent as Indonesia's central bank announced a change to its monetary policy for the first time in 11 months.

Bank Indonesia cut its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to 7.25 percent, in line with expectations based off a Reuters poll of 16 analysts.

The dollar-rupiah pair, which went up as much as 13,960 in the aftermath of the explosions, trimmed gains to trade at 13,910 after the announcement from the central bank.

Japan core machinery orders decline

In Japan, core machinery orders in November fell 14.4 percent from the previous month, according to official data, down for the first time in three months. Orders, regarded as an indicator of capital spending,fell more than market expectations with a 7.9 percent decline.

Shares of Sumitomo closed down 5.75 percent after reports the company would record a 77 billion yen ($651 million) loss for the October-December quarter from a nickel project in Madagascar.

The dollar-yen pair traded up 0.11 percent at 117.78 in afternoon trade. Japanese exporters, which had traded down as much as between 3 and 4 percent earlier, closed down between 1 and 3 percent.

Samsung Electronics reportedly said it would mass produce Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 820 mobile processors, boosting its manufacturing business. Samsung shares were down 0.87 percent at market close.

Oil prices at 12-year lows

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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In Asian trade, the globally traded oil benchmark, Brent crude, was up 0.13 percent at $30.35 a barrel, after finishing at $30.31 in U.S. trade, the first time since Dec. 30, 2015 it's settled below U.S. crude's level. U.S. crude futures, which briefly fell below the psychologically key $30 level overnight, tacked on gains of 1.12 percent to $30.82 a barrel.

While data showed U.S. crude inventories rose 234,000 barrels last week, less than expected, the numbers were overshadowed by a reportedly massive build-up in gasoline at 8.4 million barrels and over 6 million in distillates, which includes diesel and heating oil.

Lance Kawaguchi, managing director and global sector head for the resources and energy group at HSBC, said the pain from slumping oil prices was spreading to the broader energy sector.

"Crude oil prices at a 12-year low pile the pressure on energy-related companies to accelerate actions to cut costs and restructure," he said.

"It intensifies the squeeze on working capital and makes effective cash management all the more important."

Energy plays in Asia traded mostly lower, with Santos closing down 8.04 percent, Woodside Petroleum off 2.08 percent and Oil Search falling 1.27 percent.

In Japan, Inpex was down 3.60 percent and Japan Petroleum fell 2.42 percent. South Korean oil plays were down between 0.37 and 2.73 percent. In the Chinese mainland, oil stocks closed mostly up, while Hong Kong-listed shares of CNOOC, PetroChina and Sinopec were mixed, trading between down 1.17 percent and up 0.67 percent.

Japan's biggest refiner JX Nippon Oil & Energy, the core business unit of JX Holdings, said it cut its crude oil refining plan for domestic use in January by 3.6 percent due to sluggish kerosene demand after a mild winter, Reuters reported. Shares of JX Holdings finished 2.68 percent lower.

Overnight on Wall Street

Major indexes in the U.S. were sharply in the red, with the S&P 500 slipping below the 1,900-point benchmark and officially entering correction territory, down 11.29 percent from its May 21, 2015, closing high of 2,130.82.

The S&P 500 shed 48.40 points, or 2.50 percent, to drop to 1,890.28 on Wednesday.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 364.81 points, or 2.21 percent, at 16,151.41, while the Nasdaq composite was down 159.85 points, or 3.41 percent, at 4,526.06.

On the data front, Australia released its December employment data. After adding an unexpected 71,000 jobs in November, the economy shed 1,000 jobs on-month, lower than market expectations. After the data, the Australian dollar popped up to as high as $0.6961, compared with around $0.6927 before the data, but the currency quickly retraced the gains to trade around $0.6928.

Elsewhere, the Bank of Korea kept its interest rates unchanged, in line with expectations.

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