Asia Markets

Asian equities rise, but Shanghai lags on soft services PMI

Asian stock markets outside Shanghai joined the global rally on Wednesday, shrugging off a slip in crude oil prices in early Asian trading, while traders digest a raft of earnings releases in Tokyo and Sydney. Optimism that Greece will be able to negotiate a debt deal with its European partners also buoyed trading sentiment.

Oil prices fell on the back of renewed concerns over global demand and as high stock levels halted a rally that lifted prices by about 19 percent over the past four sessions. Analysts are divided on whether the movements this week indicate a bottom for oil, which have been battered by a seven-month long rout.

"I think we've seen the lows for the year, even though the cutting down of capex and oil rigs may take 6 months to 2 years before supply tightens," Daniel Morgan, global commodities analyst at UBS, told CNBC's "The Rundown." "Financially, oil prices have been sold off too aggressively so it's poised for a comeback now."

However, Daryl Guppy, CEO at, says the benchmarks are still trading within a downtrend picture: "U.S. crude is seeing a short-term rally towards the resistance level of $58 a barrel, which we expect to see a pullback and retest the support level of $48. Brent could rally to $60-62 a barrel then retreat again."

Overnight, U.S. stocks closed higher for the second consecutive day, with all indices piling on more than 1 percent, encouraged by hopes of a deal on Greek debt and as traders picked up faith that oil had hit bottom after a seven-month rout.

ASX jumps 1.2%

Australia's key S&P ASX 200 shot up to fresh seven-year highs, capitalizing on Tuesday's rally ignited by an interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). Equities down under have seen tenth straight session of gains, while the Australian dollar traded at $0.7829 against the greenback, rebounding from a six-year low of $0.7648 attained in the previous session.

The energy sector extended gains, cheering signs of a possible reprieve in global oil prices; Origin Energy climbed 3.4 percent, while Liquefied Natural Gas andSantos advanced 2 and 1.8 percent. Mining heavyweights also contributed to the rally, with Fortescue Metals and BHP Billiton being the top performers with 8.9 and 4.4 percent gains, respectively.

Westpac and Commonwealth Bank of Australia are in focus after the lenders lowered their floating mortgage rates early Wednesday. Shares of the two banks rose 2.8 and 0.4 percent, with the latter breaking yet another record high at A$91.94 earlier in the day.

Sydney-based Echo Entertainment finished 2.1 percent lower. The casino company hit a three-year high in the morning session, after reporting a 78 percent jump in net profit for the six months to Dec 2014 thanks to record bets from high rollers.

Echo Entertainment: H1 profits are 'gratifying'
Echo Entertainment: H1 profits are 'gratifying'

Nikkei leaps 2%

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index got a boost from rallying financials and a weaker yen, as the local currency traded at 117.7, compared to Tuesday's 116.9 per dollar.

Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group closed up 5.2 percent on the back of better-than-expected profits in the September-December period, while rival SMFG jumped 2.7 percent. Shares of Nissan Motor bounced up 1.9 percent, cheering news of a 22 percent rise in sales in China for the month of January.

However, Panasonic made losses of 2 percent, following Tuesday's announcement of a 42 percent plunge in its nine-month net profit. Osaka-based Sharp also tanked 4.5 percent after the electronics giant reversed its fiscal year profit forecast late Tuesday, warning that it could instead lose about $256 million following a slump in its television and smartphone screen businesses.

Toyota Motor announced an 8 percent lift in operating profit guidance after the market closed. Shares of the carmaker closed up 2.4 percent. Meanwhile, Sony said its net loss for 2014 was likely less than previously forecast in a press conference, after its stock finished trade 2.7 percent higher on Wednesday.

Mazda, which rose 3.4 percent, and Fuji Heavy Industries, which shed 1 percent, are also scheduled to hand in corporate report cards today.

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Mainland indices mixed

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite index pared gains to settle 1 percent lower, following data that showed China's services sector grew at the slowest pace in six months in January.

Oil-related counters PetroChina notched down 2.4 percent, while China Oilfield Services and Sinopec traded more than 1 percent lower. China Pacific Insurance led losses in the insurance sector, with a 3.7 percent slump. Ping An Insurance and China Life Insurance also shed 2.3 and 1.5 percent each.

Shanghai Electric Power Corp surged by the daily limit of 10 percent after its parent company, China Power Investment Corp, received approval to start work on a merger with State Nuclear Power Technology (SNPTC).

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was up 0.5 percent at a one-week high. Standard Chartered was the day's top gainer, rallying nearly 5 percent, after its shareholder Aberdeen Asset Management called it a "very good bank" and reiterated its support for the company.

Meanwhile, shares of Wynn Macau slumped 1.2 percent, trimming losses from a steep 1.8 percent decline earlier, on news that the slowdown in Macau's gaming sector weighed on Wynn Resorts' fourth-quarter earnings.

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Kospi adds 0.6%

South Korean shares trimmed gains from its intra-day peak of 1,970 points in the final hour of trading, but managed to close up amid a broad-based rally. Tech stocks like LG Display and LG Electronics piled on 3 and 1.7 percent, while Samsung SDI tacked on 1.9 percent. Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, which was in the focus for winning a $200 million order to build an LNG carrier from an undisclosed client, erased early gains to close down 0.8 percent.

Samsung Electronics finished flat on Wednesday. The heaviest weighted stock on the Kospi index had named Lee Sang-chul, former head of the company's Russian operations, as the new head of strategic marketing at its mobile division.

Taiwan jet with 58 on board crashes into river
Taiwan jet with 58 on board crashes into river

TransAsia in focus

The stock of Taiwanese airline TransAsia tumbled 7 percent, hitting limit-down, after one of its plane with 58 passengers and crew on board crash-landed in a river in Taipei on Wednesday.