Asia Markets

Upbeat GDP fail to lift Sydney shares, rest of Asia mixed

A majority of Asia's stock markets fell on Wednesday, as upbeat economic data in the region failed to boost trading sentiment.

Earlier in the session, data showed Australia's economy expanded expanded 2.3 percent in the first quarter from the year-ago period, beating forecasts from a Reuters poll for a 2.1 percent rise on-year. However, shares down under remained in the red and eventually closed down at a two-week low.

Meanwhile in China, the HSBC/Markit services purchasing managers' index (PMI) for May rose to 53.5, up from 52.9 in April and comfortably above the 50-point level that separates expansion from contraction. The Shanghai Composite index ended just a whisker below the flatline.

Overnight, U.S. equities settled modestly lower as rising bond yields took a toll on utilities, but optimism over Greece debt talks helped to limit losses. The utility sector was the greatest decliner in the S&P 500, which shed 0.1 percent. The blue-chip Dow and the Nasdaq Composite inched down 0.16 and 0.13 percent, respectively.

ASX loses 0.9%

Australia's key S&P ASX 200 index ended at a two-week low of 5,583, with investors finding little solace in a better-than-expected growth report card. On the other hand, the Australian dollar climbed up to $0.7802, from $0.7769 prior to the gross domestic product (GDP).

The Sydney index had plunged 1.72 percent in the previous session following the Reserve Bank of Australia's decision to hold interest rates steady.

The banking sector was the biggest drag for the session. Commonwealth Bank of Australia closed down 1.7 percent, while Westpac, National Australia Bank and Australia and New Zealand Banking eased between 1.1 and 1.4 percent.

Mining stocks were the lone bright spot on the index after iron ore futures firmed up to a three-week high. Bigger players Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton climbed 1.8 and 0.7 percent, respectively, while Fortescue Metals jumped 2.1 percent. Meanwhile, other resources plays traded on the back foot, with Woodside Petroleum and Santos down 1.2 and 1 percent, respectively.

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Mainland markets mixed

China's Shanghai Composite index finished flat following two days of robust gains as a dozen new share-listings prompted some investors to take profits.

Starting the day on the back foot, the Shanghai bourse fell as much as 1.79 percent before clawing back losses in the afternoon session. Meanwhile, the CSI300 index of the largest listed companies in Shanghai and Shenzhen eased 0.35 percent.

The banking sector was mixed after Beijing handed down guidelines on Tuesday for lenders to issue large-scale certificates of deposit (CDs) to individuals and institutional investors. The Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank shed 0.5 and 0.3 percent, respectively, while Bank of Communications closed up nearly 3 percent.

By contrast, Hong Kong's key Hang Seng index elevated 0.7 percent.

Cheung Kong Property Holdings finished 5.9 percent higher at HK$74.10 on its first trading day after being spun off from billionaire Li Ka-shing's conglomerate.

Retailers were in focus after data showed a 2.2 percent on-year slump in the city's retail sales data for April. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery, Giordano and Sa Sa International nursed modest losses as a result.

Nikkei sags 0.3%

Profit-taking and a rangebound dollar-yen kept Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 modestly in the red on Wednesday. The Tokyo index had snapped a 12-day winning streak a day earlier.

Still, there are market watchers who remain optimistic about Japanese shares.

"Currently, Japan does not look that expensive relative to other indices. Earnings continue to exceed expectation and the improvements in corporate governance are making Japan look attractive," Melissa Otto, Japanese equities analyst at TIAA-CREF, told CNBC.

Decliners were led by power and real estate companies; Chubu Electric Power - the country's largest power company by market capitalization - slumped 3.5 percent following recent gains, while Mitsubishi Estate Co. and Mitsui Fudosan shaved off 1.86 and 1.28 percent, respectively.

Shares of Lixil Group outperformed the bourse with a 4.5 percent jump after the announcement of a wider-than-expected loss from its Chinese subsidiary.

Meanwhile, Softbank announced a $1 billion investment in South Korea's e-commerce player Coupang after the market close. Shares of the Japanese mobile carrier notched up 0.5 percent.

Will dollar-yen move higher from here?

Kospi drops 0.7%

After a roller-coaster ride, South Korea's Kospi index eventually ended down at an eight-week low. The Seoul bourse had rebounded from a negative open to add 0.43 percent by mid-day, but soon fell into the red as selling intensified.

Automakers languished for the second straight session following data that showed falling auto sales in the country last month. Shares of Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors closed down 2.2 and 0.9 percent, respectively.

Amid growing concerns over the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in South Korea, shares of drugmakers came under heavy selling pressure. Hyundai Pharmaceutical slumped 14.9 percent, while Hanmi Pharm Co. plunged 5.2 percent.

However, other tourism-related plays mostly erased earlier losses sparked by concerns over how the outbreak could hurt the tourism industry. Korean Airlines moved up 0.3 percent, while Asiana Airlines and Hotel Shilla erased morning declines to finish flat. Hanatour Service Inc also recovered from Tuesday's 7.7 percent tumble to rise 1.8 percent.

Meanwhile, local refinery SK Innovation, which is in the news for selling its 11.1 percent stake in a Peruvian natural gas transporter, advanced 1.7 percent.