Asia stocks finished mixed on Tuesday as investors took to the sidelines ahead of major central bank monetary policy decisions due later in the week.
Australia's ASX 200 fell 15.76 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,220.60, led by declines in the energy and materials sub-indexes. Japan's was off 86.02 points, or 0.49 percent, to 17,353.28, while the Kospi wavered between positive and negative territory before closing up 5.08 points, or 0.25 percent, at 2,019.63.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was down 0.31 percent as of 3:20 p.m. HK/SIN.
Chinese mainland markets finished higher, with the gaining 18.72 points, or 0.64 percent, to 2,965.39, and the Shenzhen composite added 22.08 points, or 1.18 percent, to 1,881.98.
In Malaysia, the KLCI index was down 1.17 percent in late afternoon trade, as the ringgit fell against the dollar. The dollar/ringgit pair was up 1.18 percent at 3.9470, following reports that state investor 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) missed payment on some of its bonds.
Reuters reported 1MDB as saying the fund did not make a $50.3 million interest payment on its bonds due 2022, following a stand-off with Abu Dhabi sovereign fund IPIC. 1MDB said it will meet all its other liabilities, according to Reuters.
The U.S. Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) begins its two-day policy meeting later today local time, while decisions from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) are due Thursday Asia time. Most analysts expect the Fed to stand pat on rates, while half of the analysts polled by Reuters expect the BOJ to ease its monetary policy further.
"The Fed is unlikely to signal June as a potential rate hike meeting, but September is likely to see its market pricing firm alongside inflation expectations," said Angus Nicholson, a market analyst at IG.
For the BOJ, Nicholson expects an expansion in its ETF purchase program but "a further expansion of their bond purchases or cutting rates into deeper negative territory seems less likely."
Oil prices were near flat in the afternoon trade in Asia, after dropping overnight following data showing another build up in U.S. crude inventories.
U.S. crude futures retraced morning gains to trade down 0.05 percent at $42.62 a barrel as of 2:55 p.m. HK/SIN, after dropping 2.5 percent overnight, while Brent futures were flat at $44.48, following a 1.4 percent decline in U.S. hours.
Energy plays in the region were mixed, with Santos closing down 3.68 percent, Inpex dropping 1.5 percent and Japan Petroleum down 1.05 percent. Woodside Petroleum added 1.44 percent and Chinese mainland shares of Sinopec were up 1.46 percent.
According to Reuters, market intelligence firm Genscape reported that U.S. crude stockpiles at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery point rose by over 1.5 million barrels in the week to April 22.
Elsewhere, Bloomberg News reported Saudi Arabia would complete the expansion of the Shaybah oilfield by the end of May. Citing sources with knowledge of the plan, Bloomberg News said this would increase Shaybah's output capacity from 750,000 barrels a day to 1 million barrels a day.
Ray Attrill, global co-head of foreign exchange strategy at the National Australia Bank, said of the overnight drop in oil, "Given the news flow, the surprise perhaps is that the falls haven't been bigger."
The Saudi government on Monday also unveiled a long-term economic blueprint for life in a low-oil-price world, titled "Saudi Vision 2030." It includes regulatory, budget and policy changes that will be implemented over the next 15 years in the hope of making the kingdom less reliant on crude.
In the currency market, the dollar retreated against a basket of currencies; during Asian hours, the dollar index fell 0.12 percent at 94.729 as of 3:03 p.m. HK/SIN. This was compared to the 95 level the index touched on Monday during Asian hours.
Kathy Lien, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management, said she expected the dollar to "trade quietly" ahead of the FOMC meeting.
"While no one expects any changes from the central bank, their guidance will play a significant role in the dollar's performance in the days and weeks ahead," said Lien, adding the central bank's comments about recent data disappointments will also be important. "If they say the deterioration is transitory, it will help the dollar."
Recent string of stateside data have somewhat fallen short of market expectations, with the latest being the fall in new single-family home sales in March.
The Japanese yen broke the 111 handle against the dollar in late afternoon local time after market close, with the dollar/yen pair trading down 0.37 percent at 110.78 as of 3:08 p.m. HK/SIN. On Monday, the pair traded near the 111.86 level.
Major Japanese exporters closed mostly lower, with shares of Toyota down 0.72 percent, Nissan down 0.99 percent and Honda off 0.69 percent. Shares of Sony closed up 0.51 percent, while troubled Japanese car maker Mitsubishi Motors saw an over 4 percent gain evaporate to finish down 9.58 percent.
Australian resources stocks were mostly lower on the back of a retreat in commodity prices. Shares of Rio Tinto closed down 3.06 percent, Fortescue was down 6.25 percent and BHP Billiton down 2.95 percent.
Chinese metal plays ended mixed, with Baoshan Steel down 0.17 percent, Nanjing Steel up 0.37 percent and Yunnan Copper off 0.99 percent.
On the London Metal Exchange, base metal prices were lower in afternoon trade. Three-month copper prices were down 0.77 percent, three-month Aluminum was off 0.15 percent and three-month lead prices were down 1.17 percent. Iron ore prices have fallen some 5.38 percent since Thursday, from $68.70 a tonne to $65. Shanghai Rebar futures were also down 3.18 percent Tuesday afternoon.
In Japan, shares of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries closed down 3.59 and 2.05 percent, respectively, after reports said the companies did not win the bid to build Australia's new fleet of submarines. Reuters reported Australia awarded the A$50 billion ($40 billion) contract to French naval contractor DCNS.
In company news, South Korean memory chip maker SK Hynix reported a 65 percent on-year drop in the company's operating profit for the first quarter on the back of sluggish demand for electronic devices. Its net income for the quarter was also down 65 percent on-year, while revenue fell 24 percent on-year.
The company also said its 2016 capital expenditures will likely be lower than the 6.6 trillion won ($5.74 billion) spent in 2015, reported Reuters. Investors appeared to have shrugged off the earnings results as shares of SK Hynix closed up 6 percent.
Stateside, the posted its first three-day losing streak since Feb. 9, finishing down 0.21 percent. The finished down 0.15 percent, while the S&P 500 ended lower by 0.18 percent.