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Asian equities retreat on lackluster earnings; Fed eyed

Asian markets mostly fell on Wednesday as investors digested the raft of earnings due in the region and awaited the Federal Reserve's statement on clues for a rate hike.

The Federal Market Open Committee (FMOC) meeting, which began on Tuesday, will conclude with the release of a post-meeting statement later in the day.

Meanwhile, oil prices slipped in Asian trade as oversupply and demand woes outweighed uncertainty in Saudi Arabia.

Wall Street underpinned the lackluster mood by ending a volatile session mixed overnight, with strong earnings from Merck and gains in IBM leading the blue-chip Dow and S&P 500 higher, closing up 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent each. However, the tech-heavy Nasdaq underperformed, finishing 0.1 percent lower.

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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Shanghai Comp flat

After trading in negative terrain all morning, China's Shanghai Composite recovered losses to finish the day virtually unchanged as investors reacted to news that commercial banks may be allowed to use local government debt as collateral for liquidity via the People's Bank of China's Pledged Supplementary Lending (PSL) scheme.

Analysts say the new scheme is "a definite positive" as it could create demand from commercial banks to purchase debt. The CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen responded more positively, up 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, a flurry of financial earnings hogged the market spotlight on Wednesday.

Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of Communications declined 2 and 1.3 percent each after dismal earnings results released Wednesday. Both lenders disappointed on the net profit front as non-performing loan (NPL) ratio rose, while the former reported its slowest first-quarter profit growth in 6 years.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Bank of China retreated around 2 percent ahead of their results scheduled for release today. Also on tap are report cards from mainland's biggest brokerage Citic Securities and insurer Ping An Insurance; both notched up 0.2 and 1.6 percent, respectively.

Kospi slips 0.2%

South Korea's benchmark Kospi index reversed a higher open to chalk up a four-day losing streak, as steep falls in large caps, including key heavyweights like Kepco and Hyundai Motor, offset the rise in its top weighted stock Samsung Electronics.

Samsung's shares climbed 1.4 percent on the back of first-quarter earnings released just before the market open, which saw operating profit for the March quarter came in at 6 trillion won, in line with the 5.9 trillion won profit the firm guided for earlier this month. According to research firm Strategy Analytics, the South Korean giant overtook Apple to recapture the title of world's top smartphone maker by volume in the first three months of 2015.

LG Electronics erased losses to close up 0.3 percent after announcing its January-March profit in the afternoon session. Profits of the world's second-largest TV maker fell 36.2 percent from a year earlier, while operating profit also missed expectations to come in at 305 billion won. Meanwhile, LG also unveiled its flagship G4 smartphone on Wednesday.

ASX plunges 1.7%

Australia's S&P ASX 200 index was one of the biggest losers in the region on Wednesday, with all of its 10 main sectors languishing in the red.

"The market has been steamrolled today. The combination of the Australian dollar breaking 80 U.S. cents, lower iron ore futures and [speculation that] the Reserve Bank of Australia could have ended its easing cycle is having a clear effect," Chris Weston, IG's market analyst, wrote in a note.

Banks were among the hardest-hit; Westpac, National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank of Australia closed down more than 2 percent each.

Mining and energy producers also contributed significant downward pressure on the resource-heavy bourse; Fortescue Metals lost 7.4 percent, while Oil Search and Woodside Petroleum receded 2.2 and 1.1 percent, respectively.

Gold-related counters, which were up earlier in the session on the back of firmer gold prices, also succumbed to the selloff; Evolution Mining and Newcrest Mining gave up gains to finish 0.5 and 0.2 percent lower.

On the corporate news front, Wesfarmers, which released its quarterly statement on production, development and exploration, slipped 0.4 percent. IAG tanked over 4 percent after downgrading full-year insurance margin guidance.

Read MoreIron ore rally: Mere dead cat bounce?

SET drops 0.6%

Bangkok's SET index finished at its lowest level since April 1 even as the Bank of Thailand surprised markets with a 25-basis-point cut, bringing its benchmark interest rate down to 1.5 percent.

This is the central bank's second consecutive move to lower interest rates in a bid to prop up a sluggish economy. Data released on Tuesday showed Thai exports fell for a third month in March, hinting that Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy could see a further slowdown in the first three months of the year as a key engine of growth fails to fire up.

Meanwhile, Japanese markets are closed for the Showa Day holiday.