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Asian shares end mixed; yen strengthens to 109 versus the dollar

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Markets in Asia closed mixed on Thursday, with Japanese shares dropping amid a stronger yen against the dollar.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 declined 0.68 percent, or 125.77 points, to close at 18,426.84. The dollar fetched 109.08 yen at around 3:18 p.m. HK/SIN, with the Japanese currency strengthening from levels over 111 reached earlier in the week.

Among major exporters, Toyota shares closed 1.16 percent lower at 5,731 yen per stock while Mitsubishi Electric declined 2.45 percent to close at 637 yen.

The strength in the yen corresponded with broad declines in the dollar, following President Donald Trump's remarks to the Wall Street Journal that the greenback was getting "too strong." That pushed the dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of currencies, lower from levels near 100.80 to about 100.11 on Thursday at 2:50 p.m. HK/SIN.

"With political tensions remaining high and Trump's call for a lower dollar, traders are more likely to take notice of bad news over good to keep pressure on the dollar and support the yen," said ThinkMarkets' senior market analyst Matt Simpson in a note.

In the interview with the Journal, Trump also reversed a crucial campaign promise and said his administration will not label China a currency manipulator in a report due this week.

"As most knew all along, if China was manipulating its currency, it was in Trump's favor, not vice versa. The renminbi has appreciated against its trading partners by 40 percent over the past dozen years and continues to do so today," analysts at Singapore's DBS Bank said in a note.

In South Korea, the Kospi ended higher by 0.93 percent, or 19.7 points, to close at 2,148.61, after the Bank of Korea kept its base rate unchanged at 1.25 percent on Thursday. The Korean won strengthened against the greenback on Thursday, trading at 1,129.05 at 2:50 p.m. HK/SIN, climbing from an earlier low of 1,137.90.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
---
HSI
---
ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
---
KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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Down Under, the ASX 200 closed 0.74 percent, or 44.058 points, lower at 5,889.9. Major resources producers were notably lower, with Rio Tinto down 4.43 percent, Fortescue down by 6.78 percent and BHP Billiton lower by 3.99 percent.

The Australian dollar traded higher against the greenback at $0.7584, up from a previous low of $0.7515.

Earlier in the day, the Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed seasonally adjusted employment in March rose by nearly 61,000 jobs from February, beating a Reuters forecast for 20,000.

"We think the RBA would be pleased with the strength in employment in today's numbers, although the stubbornly high unemployment rate will remain a source of concern," said Felicity Emmett, senior economist at ANZ.

Mainland Chinese markets rose, with the Shanghai composite rising 0.07 percent, or 2.243 points, to close at 3,276.0735 and the Shenzhen composite higher by 0.38 percent, or 7.663 points, to finish at 2,014.6664. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index declined by 0.22 percent in afternoon trade.

China's exports rose 16.4 percent in March, beating a Reuters' analyst forecast of 3.2 percent to reverse a decline of 1.3 percent in February, data showed Thursday.

The yuan strengthened against the dollar; the on-shore yuan traded at 6.8789 against the greenback, while the off-shore yuan fetched 6.8746.

In corporate news, Western Digital warned that troubled Japanese conglomerate Toshiba will breach a joint venture contract if it sells its memory chip unit. Toshiba shares closed down 5.02 percent.

Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific announced that Chief Operating Officer Rupert Hogg would replace current Chief Executive Ivan Chu on May 1. The airline posted losses in March, the first time the company has reported annual losses since 2008. Cathay Pacific shares rose 0.55 percent.

Oil prices also fell, after data from the Energy Information Administration showed a build up in U.S. inventories. Reuters reported the EIA report showed stockpiles at the U.S. crude hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, rose 276,000 barrels in the week.

Brent fell 0.05 percent to $55.83 a barrel, while U.S. crude was down 0.11 percent at $53.05.

Meanwhile, Singapore's trade-reliant economy shrank 1.9 percent in the first quarter from the previous three months on an annualized basis, preliminary data showed on Thursday.

Separately, Singapore's central bank left monetary policy steady in a widely expected decision.

Stateside, U.S. equities were lower across the board. U.S. markets awaited earnings announcements from several major U.S. financials, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. The banks were expected to report results on Thursday ET.