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Asia shares end mixed, while Nikkei tots up 9.3% rise for year

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Asian shares retraced some early gains Wednesday to close mixed, with South Korea and Hong Kong falling into the red, while the Australia and Shanghai markets ended on a positive note. The Japan market finished its final trading day of the year in positive territory as the Nikkei registered a yearly gain of 9.27 percent.

Oil prices saw some respite overnight during U.S. trading hours, with both U.S. crude's West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and the global benchmark Brent futures rising over 2.5 percent each.

However, the upward momentum did not continue. In Asian trade, WTI futures were down 65 cents, or 1.72 percent, at $37.22 a barrel, while Brent traded at $37.42 a barrel, down some 0.98 percent.

Oil's overnight rally was driven in part by expectations for U.S. crude inventories to continue falling, Vishnu Varathan, an analyst at Mizuho Bank in Singapore, said in a note Wednesday. But he added, "Certainly, the big picture of sustained softness on oil prices has not dramatically changed overnight. So, technical adjustment has aspects of 'window-dressing.'"

In corporate news, credit ratings agency Moody's has cut Noble Group's rating to junk status on liquidity concerns, capping a year of troubles for the Hong Kong-based commodities trader. The rating cut will likely increase Noble's borrowing costs and will make it harder for the company to refinance debt to shore up its finances. Noble shares fell as much as 8 percent in Singapore.

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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ASX closes up 1 percent

The Australian market closed at a two-month high, with the main ASX 200 up 53 points, or 1 percent, at 5,320, with all sectors finishing in the green.

The big four banks climbed, with National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and ANZ tacking on between 1.2 and 1.9 percent.

"The Big Four had another great day, with yield-hunting investors very keen to pick up the stocks," Angus Nicholson, market analyst at spreadbetter IG, said in a note Wednesday.

While he had expected heavyweight miners Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton would rise on news of copper output cuts in China, which sent March futures of the metal up 2.8 percent, the two were nearly flat.

Rio Tinto erased morning losses to close up a mere 0.02 percent. BHP Billiton also trimmed losses, but still finished in the red, down 0.11 percent. Both stocks finished in the red overnight on the London FTSE.

Energy plays closed mixed, with Santos down 0.26 percent, while Oil Search and Woodside Petroleum both finished in positive territory.

Elsewhere, shares of Australian Dairy Farms Group were up as much as 36 percent after reports that the company agreed to buy privately owned Camperdown Dairy Company for A$11 million. Camperdown is one of the few Australian firms that are certified by Chinese authorities for quick quarantine clearance of fresh milk, giving Australian Dairy Farms Group better access to the China market.

The Australian dollar traded slightly up at 0.7290 against the U.S. dollar.

Nikkei registers four consecutive years of gains

The Japanese market maintained its momentum, as the benchmark Nikkei 225 index registered its fourth consecutive year of gains on its final trading day of 2015. The index closed up 51 points, or 0.27 percent, at 19,033 Wednesday.

The yen traded flat at 120.47 against the dollar as export stocks such as Toyota, Honda, and Sony all closed up.

Shares of Fujifilm Holdings ended up 2.63 percent after local newspaper Yomiuri reported that Toshiba, still recovering from its accounting scandal earlier in the year, will likely sell its equipment business unit, Toshiba Medical Systems, to the company.

Toshiba shares finished 7.7 percent higher.

Electronic manufacturer Pioneer saw its shares end up 5 percent after Nomura Securities raised its target price.

Meanwhile energy plays Inpex and Japan Petroleum saw gains of 0.17 and 0.93 percent respectively.

Kospi loses upward momentum

In South Korea, the Kospi lost its momentum from a higher finish in the previous session. The index was down 5 points, or 0.25 percent, at 1,961.

Big movers included Samsung Engineering, which closed up 16.9 percent after surging nearly 30 percent Tuesday following the announcement of contracts from Samsung Electronics.

The consumer electronics giant was up 0.48 percent.

Reuters, citing a government official, reported a South Korean regulator has ordered Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors to sell part of their stakes in steelmaker Hyundai Steel to comply with regulations concerning big industrial groups. Local media Donga Ilbo said the companies were ordered to sell a combined 8.81 million shares worth 460 billion won ($393 million) in Hyundai Steel by Jan. 1, 2016.

Hyundai Motor shares closed flat, while Kia Motors shares were down 0.94 percent. Hyundai Steel saw losses of 4.5 percent.

Chinese markets tack on gains

The Chinese markets wavered between positive and negative before closing higher. The main Shanghai Composite index closed up 0.25 percent at 3,573.

The smaller Shenzhen Composite closed up 0.9 percent. Away from the mainland, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed 0.53 percent at 21,882.

Before trading began, the People's Bank of China set the official yuan mid-point at 6.4895 against the dollar. The yuan traded lower at 6.4898 against the dollar.

Reports said China's state planner approved the second phase of a 170.1 kilometer railway project worth 52.9 billion yuan ($8.16 billion) in Dalian, due to be completed by 2020.

Rail stocks such as CRRC and China Railway Construction traded up 0.93 and 0.52 percent respectively.

Hong Kong-listed shares of Sinotrans Shipping closed up 2.67 percent after Chinese authorities approved the absorption of its parent company, Sinotrans & CSC into China Merchants Group.

Shares of Sinotrans fell 1.41 percent.

Overnight, in the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 192.71 points, or 1.1 percent, at 17,720.98. The S&P 500 closed up 21.86 points, or 1.06 percent, at 2,078.36 while the Nasdaq Composite was up 66.95 points, or 1.33 percent, at 5,107.94.

CNBC's Huileng Tan contributed to this report.

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