Asia shares end mostly up; Nikkei up 0.7%, Shanghai adds 0.6%

Investors look at computer screens showing stock information at a brokerage house in Qingdao, Shandong province, China.
China Daily | Reuters
Investors look at computer screens showing stock information at a brokerage house in Qingdao, Shandong province, China.

Asia markets closed mostly higher Friday as a weaker yen provided support for Japan's shares amid persistent concerns over a potential Federal Reserve rate hike in April.

But volume was lower than usual throughout the trading day as many major markets were shut for the Good Friday holiday.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 finished up 110.42 points, or 0.65 percent, at 17,002.75; for the week, the index was up 1.66 percent. The Japanese yen retreated to the 113 handle against the dollar, with the dollar/yen pair trading at 113.14 as of 1:22 p.m. HK/SIN time, up from as low as 112.43 on Thursday.

However as of 3:05 p.m. HK/SIN time, after the Japanese market close, the dollar/yen pair gave up some gains, trading at 112.92.

The dollar has been edging higher on the idea that the Fed could give serious consideration to a rate hike at its April meeting. Pushing that thinking – and the dollar - is the Fed itself, with a handful of officials saying in the past week that a rate hike could be coming soon. That was despite the Fed issuing a fairly dovish sounding policy statement after its March meeting.

Major exporters in Japan closed mostly up, with shares of Toyota higher by 2.81 percent, Nissan adding 2.64 percent and Honda up by 2.83 percent. Usually a weaker yen is a positive for exporters as it increases their overseas profits when converted into local currency.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi finished lower by 2.16 points, or 0.11 percent, at 1,983.81.

Chinese markets were up, with the Shanghai composite higher by 18.15 points, or 0.61 percent, at 2,979.12, and the Shenzhen composite added 9.07 points, or 0.48 percent, to 1,885.17.

Markets in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Indonesia, New Zealand and the Philippines were closed for the holiday.

Before market open, Japan released data that showed inflation was flat. Reuters reported nationwide February core consumer price index (CPI) was flat on year, against the market's forecast for a 0.1 percent increase.

Tokyo's March core CPI, considered a leading indicator of nationwide prices, was down 0.3 percent on year, compared with a forecast for a 0.2 percent drop, said Reuters. This will likely pressure the Bank of Japan, which cut interest rates earlier this year into negative territory to boost inflation toward its target of 2 percent.

Oil prices were lower overnight, with U.S. crude futures settling down 33 cents at $39.46 a barrel, while global benchmark Brent was off a tad at $40.44.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
---
HSI
---
ASX 200
---
SHANGHAI
---
KOSPI
---
CNBC 100
---

But that was well off session lows as oil got a sentiment boost after the weekly oil rig count, released Thursday due to the Good Friday holiday, showed a drop of 15 oil rigs.

Asian energy plays were mixed, with Inpex closing up 1.22 percent, Fuji Oil higher by 1.53 percent and Japan Petroleum losing 2.38 percent. Mainland Chinese oil plays were mixed, with Sinopec off 1.67 percent and China Oilfield higher by 0.39 percent.

On the currency front, the rig count data likely boosted the Australian dollar, according to Stephen Innes, a senior foreign-exchange trader at Oanda. Because Australia relies heavily on its commodity exports, expectations of some relief from the long oil-price rout can sway the currency.

The Australian dollar was fetching around $0.7525 Friday afternoon, up from as little as $0.7480 on Thursday. That was despite the U.S. dollar remaining fairly strong on the back of renewed Fed rate hike expectations, with the dollar index remaining at the 96 handle.

The Chinese yuan was weaker against the dollar, with the dollar/yuan pair up 0.08 percent at 6.5176. Before market open, the People's Bank of China set the yuan mid-point fix at 6.5223 to the dollar, compared with Thursday's fix at 6.5150.

In corporate news, troubled Japanese electronics maker Sharp said Friday its annual earnings are to likely fall short of official projections partially due to weak sales in China, reported Reuters. The statement came as a response to the Yomiuri daily report which said Sharp could book an operating loss of "tens of billions of yen" in the business year ending this month, said Reuters.

Sharp shares closed lower by 1.56 percent.

In other news, Reuters reported municipal authorities in Shanghai have introduced new rules to cool its overheated property market. Home buyers will have to make down payments between 50 to 70 percent of the price of the house for their second home in order to qualify for a mortgage, said Reuters.

The Shanghai composite property subindex closed up 0.81 percent, while the CSI300 Real Estate subindex added 0.8 percent.

Major U.S. indexes closed mixed overnight, with the Dow Jones industrial average up 0.08 percent, the S&P 500 off by 0.04 percent and the Nasdaq composite up by 0.1 percent.

The major averages still ended a five-week win streak, falling about half a percent over four days that saw some of the lowest trade volume of the year so far. Markets are closed Friday for Good Friday.

—Patti Domm contributed to this article.

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