Asia Markets

Asian stocks end mixed on profit-taking, earnings season


Asian stocks closed mixed Tuesday on the back of profit-taking following the recent bull run in various regional markets and as investors looked ahead to the earnings season.

U.S. stocks finished lower on Monday as worries heightened that a strong U.S. dollar could weigh on earnings at major companies. First-quarter earnings season officially kicks off Tuesday, with blue chips JPMorgan Chase and Intel reporting.

The and S&P 500 gave up morning gains to close down 0.5 percent each, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq dipped in and out of negative territory before closing down 0.2 percent on the day.

Mainland indices mixed

Another choppy session ensued in mainland markets, with China's Shanghai Composite index transcending between positive and negative territories before closing up 0.3 percent to another fresh 7-year high.

Analysts attribute the volatility to the deluge of economic data due tomorrow, including China's first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) which could likely hit a multi-year low. "It's safe to say investors in China are positioning for some disappointing data and the weak trade balance suggests GDP could undershoot this week and risks slipping below the expected 7 percent," Stan Shamu, IG's market strategist, wrote in a note.

In Hong Kong, the key Hang Seng index closed down 1.6 percent, seemingly on the back of profit-taking, following a blistering run-up of nearly 13 percent over the past 8 sessions. Fueled by a surge in interest from mainland-based investors, the city's bourse rose above the 28,000 mark for the first time in more than seven years on Monday.

The sell-off was largely in the insurance, securities and banking sectors; Citic Securities closed down 0.5 percent in Shanghai and 4.5 percent in Hong Kong. Bank of China tanked 1 and 2.6 percent, respectively.

Recent top performers such as Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing lost nearly 4 percent, but Daniel So, strategist at CMB International Securities, says the pullback won't be "too deep."

"I believe the stock will outperform the market. Even if there is a pullback, investors will like to buy on dips so the pullback won't be too deep," So told CNBC.

To be sure, analysts expect the Hang Seng index to charge higher, with various brokerages raising their long-term targets. Bocom International Holdings expects the bourse to hit a record 32,000 by June, a 14 percent upside from current levels, while Morgan Stanley raised its 12-month target to 30,000.

"It's a volatile market, but the key thing that we are focusing on is that we are still well below the long-term average of Hang Seng valuations," Jonathan Garner, managing director & chief Asia and emerging market equity strategist at Morgan Stanley. "The 30,000-point target assumes we get back to 13 times forward P/E, which the rest of Asia is trading already, and so that's quite likely."

Morgan Stanley's new target for HK stocks: 30,000

Nikkei flat

Profit-taking kept Japan's Nikkei 225 index rangebound within neutral territory all day, closing flat and remaining short of the psychologically-important 20,000 mark.

Recent gainers such as industrial robot maker Fanuc sagged 1.6 percent, while food companies such as Kikkoman and Meiji Holdings eased over 2 percent, respectively, after having risen more than 30 percent year-to-date.

Shopping website operator Rakuten was an outperformer, advancing 1.6 percent on news that it's planning to acquire online content company PopSugar for $580 million. The Japanese conglomerate has been on an acquisition spree, having bought U.S. eBook firm OverDrive last month.

Kospi gains 0.6%

South Korea's Kospi index pushed through the landmark 2,100-point level for the first time in nearly four years to close 0.6 percent higher.

Retailers are among the top gainers; Hotel Shilla rallied 7.5 percent, after surging the daily limit of 15 percent in the previous session, following news that it is joining hands with construction firm Hyundai Development to open the nation's biggest duty free store in Seoul. Lotte Shopping and Shinsegae elevated 5.3 and 11.1 percent, respectively.

Cosmetics maker AmorePacific closed down 3.3 percent after hitting all-time highs on Monday.

ASX drops 0.2%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index was lackluster on Tuesday, stung by declines in key banking and mining heavyweights, closing 0.2 percent lower. A survey showing marked improvement in business conditions last month, which in turn lifted confidence levels among Australian firms, did little to boost sentiment.

Laggards include BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, down 1 percent and 0.6 percent each, as iron ore prices continue to flirt with multi-year lows. Major lenders such as Australia and New Zealand Banking Group dropped 1.1 percent, while Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank slipped 0.3 percent, respectively.

Suncorp was in the spotlight after announcing a leadership change. Shares of the financial services heavyweight jumped 2 percent.

Suncorp: Why Michael Cameron is the new CEO

Southeast Asia

Singapore's economy grew faster than expected in the first three months of 2015, government data showed on Tuesday, even as the Monetary Authority of Singapore - the country's default central bank - surprised markets by announcing no change to its monetary policy. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew an annualized 2.1 percent in January-March from the year-ago period, stronger than the 1.8 percent forecast in a Reuters poll.

Following the news, the strengthened as much as 0.74 percent to 1.3613 against the U.S. dollar from $1.3720, while the Straits Times index hit levels not seen since December 2007, closing over 1 percent higher.

The Jakarta Composite closed down 0.6 percent as the Indonesian central bank left its key interest rates unchanged at 7.50 percent for the second straight meeting.

Meanwhile, markets in Thailand and India are closed for public holidays.

— CNBC's Li Anne Wong contributed to this report