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Asian indexes mixed after Wall Street earnings; oil off lows, French election eyed

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Asian shares traded sideways on Thursday, following key earnings on Wall Street and as oil prices came off two-week lows set earlier in the session.

Oil prices recouped some losses after falling to a two-week low, down nearly 4 percent, following an unexpected build in U.S. gasoline inventories and an increase in U.S. crude production. Brent crude was up by 0.72 percent to trade at $53.31 a barrel while U.S. crude rose 0.65 percent at $50.77.

Investors are also expected to eye politics in Europe as tensions on the Korean peninsula appear to ebb, following news that a U.S. aircraft carrier group had not actually been headed to seas near the Korean Peninsula.

The first round of the tight French presidential election this weekend could influence movements in euro/dollar, said IG Chief Market Strategist Christ Weston in a Thursday morning note. Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who advocates leaving the euro zone, are most likely to go through to the second round of the election, he added.

"(I)t seems unlikely euro/dollar will break the $1.05 to $1.085 range on this outcome. I would however favor euro appreciation here and a brief rally in the CAC 40 cash, given the polls have consistently shown an easy win for Macron," Weston said. Euro/dollar last traded at $1.0726.

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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Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index reversed earlier gains and closed nearly flat at 18,430.49. The Kospi bounced 0.5 percent or 10.75 points to end at 2,149.15 while the ASX 200 ticked higher by 0.3 percent or 17.39 points to close at 5,821.4.

Markets in greater China were also mixed. The Shanghai Composite closed 0.06 percent or 1.9 points higher to close at 3,172.5903 while the Shenzhen Composite traded 0.191 percent or 3.6868 points lower to close at 1,928.0897. The Hang Seng Index rose 0.36 percent.

A spokeswoman for China's forex regulator said on Wednesday that cross-border capital flows had eased in Q1 this year.

Meanwhile, the dollar headed lower to trade at 99.683 against a basket of rivals at 2:15 pm HK/SIN. The greenback was also slightly stronger against the yen, trading higher at 108.9 compared to the 108.4 handle seen yesterday.

Sterling gave up some gains after rising to a six-and-a-half month high following the announcement of a snap election by Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday. Cable traded at $1.2814, above the $1.27 handle seen in the last session.

Commenting on sterling, Port Shelter Investment Management Chief Executive Richard Harris told CNBC that the currency had been "due for a bounce" but is unlikely to strengthen further. "I don't really see it moving much more from here. There's still too much uncertainty out there," he added.

The Jakarta Composite was most flat today, after incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly referred to as Ahok, ceded ground in the Jakarta gubernatorial election to challenger Anies Baswedan.

Shares of Saratoga Investama Sedaya registered a bounce as high as 23.6 percent earlier in the session, Reuters reported. Sandiaga Uno, who co-founded the investment company, is the running mate of Anies Baswedan.

In corporate news, Rio Tinto reported that iron ore production fell 3 percent on year but did not change its full-year guidance. Rio Tinto shares jumped 1 percent in early trade but closed 0.39 percent lower at A$58.67 a stock.

On the economic front, Japan reported that March exports rose 12 percent on year, against a 6.7 percent increase projected. This is the fourth consecutive month of gains for Japanese exports, Reuters said.

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said on Wednesday there would be "various problems" if the Bank of Japan resorted to helicopter money as this would undermine its independence.

Also on the calendar is the Indonesian central bank's rate decision at 5:00 p.m. in Jakarta. It is widely expected to keep rates on hold.

Stateside, stocks closed mostly lower on the back of a mixed earnings picture and lower oil prices, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.58 percent or 118.79 points after IBM announced mixed Q1 earnings, to finish at 20,404.49.