Asian markets close lower, weighed by commodity prices

Jung Yeon-Je | AFP | Getty Images

Major markets in Asia closed mostly lower on Friday after wavering between positive and negative territory as investors focused on economic data, central bank decisions and commodity prices.

The Japanese market took a wild ride, erasing early losses and spiking higher briefly after the Bank of Japan said it will increase purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), before retreating back into negative territory.

The BOJ kept monetary policy unchanged as expected, but the central bank announced a new program to purchase ETFs at annual pace of 300 billion yen ($2.45 billion). This is in addition to the bank's existing ETF purchase program which increases ETF holdings at an annual pace of about 3 trillion yen.

Energy, gold stocks close lower

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During Asian trading hours, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) futures shed 7 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $34.88 a barrel, near a seven-year low. The internationally traded Brent was up 17 cents, or 0.46 percent, at $37.24 a barrel, after falling close to an 11-year low in overnight trade.

Angus Nicholson, market analyst at spreadbetter IG, said in a note that sustained uplifts in oil prices are unlikely until there are consistent declines in oil inventories.

"Crude storage has not yet reached capacity and with contango at such dramatic levels there is little incentive to sell into the spot market," he said, adding, "A wave of defaults and bankruptcies in the energy sector still looks likely to come, and these concerns are certainly weighing on markets."

Contango means the current price of a commodity is lower than prices for delivery in the future.

Spot gold rose 0.53 percent to $1,057 an ounce after losing as much as 2.4 percent overnight, hovering close to a six-year low.

Energy plays in Australia closed mixed, with stocks of Santos, Woodside Petroleum and Oil Search closing down between 0.22 and 1.31 percent.

Japan's Inpex and Japan Petroleum saw losses of 2.6 and 2.46 percent respectively by the market close. South Korean oil refineries ended mostly in the red. Shares of S-Oil, SK Innovation, and GS Holdings closed down between 1.17 and 2.59 percent.

Chinese energy plays CNOOC, PetroChina and Sinopec traded down between 0.64 and 2.5 percent.

Gold miners Newcrest, Evolution Mining and Alacer Gold saw heavy losses, falling 1.89 to 4.73 percent.

Property stocks react to Chinese housing data

The Chinese market wavered between positive and negative, with the main Shanghai Composite closing flat at 3,579. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was down 41 points, or 0.21 percent, at 21,829.

Earlier, China's new home prices for November were released, showing further signs of recovery in the economically sensitive sector. Overall housing prices rose 0.9 percent on-year in November, up from October's 0.1 percent tick up, according to Reuters calculations based on official data. There were big jumps in tier-one cities, with Beijing new home prices rising 7.7 percent on-year and Shanghai's increasing 13.1 percent.

Property stocks in the mainland and in the protectorate were mixed. Vanke's A-shares were up 10 percent, while Poly Real Estate shares trimmed gains to trade down at 1.39. Evergrande's Hong Kong-listed shares were up 2.5 percent.

Other Hong Kong-listed property stocks traded mostly in positive territory. Shares of CK Property traded down 1.46 percent, while Henderson Land and Sino Land rose 0.63 and 2.11 percent respectively.

Elsewhere, before trading began, the People's Bank of China (PBOC) set Friday's yuan mid-point at 6.4814, indicating a weaker yuan than the previous day's fix of 6.4757. it was the 10th straight weaker fixing for the Chinese currency. The yuan traded higher at 6.4790 against the dollar at the close of trade.

Japan, South Korea end lower

The Japanese and South Korean markets ended in negative territory.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 closed down 367 points, or 1.9 percent, at 18,986 after briefly spiking up as much as 2.7 percent on the back of the BOJ announcement.

Toshiba was in focus, with shares down 2.92 percent, after reports that the company is considering spinning off its flash memory business to raise funds for restructuring.

In South Korea, the Kospi shed 2.6 points, or 0.13 percent, to close at 1,975.

Samsung Group stocks were in focus. Samsung Electronics was down 0.93 percent, while Samsung SDI shares were down 7.45 percent.

On Wednesday, reports emerged that Samsung SDI entered a partnership with German utility company E. ON in the field of energy storage.

Samsung Engineering shares were up 6.23 percent after news that the engineering construction company won a more than $800 million contract for a Mono Ethylene Glycol (MEG) plant in the U.S. from Lotte Chemical.

ASX closes near flat

The ASX 200 in Australia ended up 4.7 points, or 0.09 percent, at 5,106, after spending much of the session in the red. The materials sector finished in negative territory, down 0.91 percent.

Resources producers Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton closed down 2.08 and 0.88 percent respectively.

Iron ore producers saw little respite even after iron ore prices ticked up marginally to $38.50 a tonne as prices remained near their lowest levels since 2008, during the Global Financial Crisis.

Miners Fortescue and Arrium were down 5.99 and 3.33 percent respectively, while Atlas Iron was up 2.27 percent.

The Australian dollar traded higher at 0.7135 against the dollar.

Over in the U.S.

Major indexes in the U.S. closed down. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 253 points, or 1.43 percent, to finish at 17,496. The S&P 500 was down 31 points, or 1.5 percent, at 2,042 while the Nasdaq fell 69 points, or 1.35 percent, to 5,0003.

— Leslie Shaffer contributed to this report.

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