Asia markets mostly lower ahead of US data, Yellen speech

Most Asian markets were lower Tuesday ahead of key U.S. data later this week, amid continued concern over whether the U.S. Federal Reserve might hike interest rates at its April meeting.

"Global risk appetite was held in check amid a quiet data calendar yesterday," said analysts from Singapore's OCBC Bank in a morning note Tuesday. "Market players are awaiting further cues from key U.S. non-farm payrolls and unemployment report this Friday [local time]."

The Japanese Nikkei 225 ended down 30.84 points, or 0.18 percent, at 17,103.53, while the Topix was off by 4.25 points, or 0.31 percent, at 1,377.60. Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi advanced by 12.37 points, or 0.62 percent, to 1,994.91. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index reversed losses to close up 20.69 points, or 0.1 percent, at 20,366.30.

Chinese markets ended lower, with the Shanghai composite off by 37.27 points, or 1.26 percent, at 2,920.54, while the Shenzhen composite fell 34.14 points, or 1.82 percent, to 1,840.50.

Australia's ASX 200 closed down 79.69 points, or 1.57 percent, at 5,004.51 after being closed for the Easter holiday on Friday and Monday. The market was weighed by declines in the financials subindex.

Mark Matthews, head of research for Asia at Julius Baer, said in a morning note, "Until there is something more from the Fed, the markets will be in wait and see mode."

U.S. Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen is due to speak at The Economic Club of New York on Tuesday local time. Her comments will follow remarks from a handful of Fed officials over the past week that a rate hike could be coming soon.

The OCBC analysts said markets will focus on Yellen's speech and "it remains to be seen if she will echo the slightly hawkish tone emanating from other Fed speakers of late."

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Down Under, the financials subindex dropped 2 percent, with ANZ closing down 3.58 percent, Commonwealth Bank of Australia down 2.38 percent, Westpac off by 3.05 percent and NAB down 2.59 percent.

That followed ANZ's warning last week that it would see higher bad debt charges than previously expected on its exposure to the resources sector, which spurred concerns that other banks faced similar issues. Westpac has also indicated its bad debts may rise.

Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG, said in a note Tuesday that "resource and energy represent approximately 1.5 percent of total bank exposures" for Australia's so-called Big Four banks. He noted NAB, Westpac and ANZ are all due to report fiscal first half earnings at the end of April or beginning of May.

"Expectations would be for NAB to join Westpac and ANZ in 'confessing,' its provisioning for bad and doubtful debt (BDD) will have to increase based on current information from resource firms," he noted.

In the currency market, the dollar/yen pair was at 113.67 as of 3:20 p.m. HK/SIN time. Major Japanese exporters closed mixed, with Toyota off 1.11 percent, Nissan down 1.64 percent and Honda lower by 0.16 percent. Shares of Sony closed up 0.67 percent.

The Australian dollar traded at $0.7530 against the greenback, after the stock market had closed.

Investors chat while standing next to an electric board showing stock market movements at a securities brokerage in Shanghai.
Johannes Eisele | AFP | Getty Images
Investors chat while standing next to an electric board showing stock market movements at a securities brokerage in Shanghai.

Oil prices retreated during Asian hours, with U.S. crude futures down 1.45 percent at $38.82 a barrel, while global benchmark, Brent, was off 1.59 percent at $39.63 as of 3:25 p.m. HK/SIN time.

Energy plays were lower, with Santos erasing early gains to close flat, Oil Search down 0.74 percent and Woodside Petroleum lower by 1.11 percent. Japan's Inpex fell 1.96 percent, while Chinese mainland shares of Sinopec were off 0.15 percent.

In Japan, data showed household spending rose 1.2 percent on-year in February. The country's seasonally adjusted jobless rate for February came in at 3.3 percent, slightly above the 3.2 percent forecast in a Reuters poll.

Overnight, U.S. indexes were mixed, with the Dow Jones industrial average up 0.11 percent, the S&P 500 up 0.05 percent and the Nasdaq composite down 0.14 percent.

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