Asia Markets

Asian markets end mostly higher as oil prices climb

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Asian markets likely got a fillip from higher oil prices, closing mostly higher Thursday after wavering throughout the trading session.

The gains followed uncertain trade in the wake of a reading on China's economy showing growth in the services sector moderated and as the U.S. dollar strengthened.

Crude prices gained ground in Asian trade, after reports of Canada's oil sands production being disrupted by a wildfire and an escalation of fighting in Libya, according to Reuters.

U.S. crude futures jumped 3.15 percent to $44.65 a barrel, after settling up 0.3 percent in U.S. trade Wednesday. Brent crude futures were also up 2.51 percent at $45.28, after settling 0.78 percent lower in the U.S. session.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 closed up 0.15 percent, or 7.963 points, at 5,279.1, buoyed by a pick up in the energy subindex, which was up 1.12 percent, and financials, which rose 0.66 percent. The gains were offset by the 0.66 percent decline in the materials subindex.

The mainland Chinese markets ended the session higher, with the Shanghai composite closing up 0.23 percent, or 6.869 points, at 2,998.141, and the Shenzhen composite adding 0.721 percent, or 13.912 points, to 1,942.544. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index shed 0.22 percent as of 3:13 p.m. SIN/HK time.

The China Caixin services purchasing mangers' index (PMI), released Thursday morning local time, came in at 51.8 for April, continuing to show expansion, but marking a moderation from 52.2 in March. A reading above 50 indicates activity is growing, while one below that level suggests a contraction.

Markets in Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand were closed Thursday for public holidays. The finished down 3.1 percent on Monday, and has been closed since for public holidays.

Energy shares were mostly higher in Australia, with Origin Energy tacking on 3.54 percent and Santos adding 2.62 percent. Hong Kong-listed shares of Petrochina added 0.18 percent by 3:44 p.m. SIN/HK time. But mainland-listed shares of China Oilfield fell 0.46 percent.

In the currency market, the dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, continued its three-day rally, trading at 93.289 at 3:14 p.m. HK/SIN time, firming after dipping under 92 earlier this week to tap the lowest levels since January 2015.

The greenback's relative strength may be denting market sentiment.

"The backdrop for the market is dicey with the trajectory of the U.S. dollar likely a key driver of sentiment," DBS said in a note Thursday. "More often than not, U.S. dollar strength is associated with risk aversion and/or rate hike expectations, neither of which appears to be positive for risky assets."

A stronger dollar is also generally a negative for commodity prices, which are denominated in dollars.

Major resource producers were mixed, with shares of Fortescue Metals falling 3.19 percent, while Rio Tinto's shares increased 0.44 percent. In China, Baoshan Steel was down 0.71 percent and Aluminium Corp of China was unchanged.

BHP Billiton lost 1.92 percent, extending Wednesday's 9.4 percent plunge as investors digested news of a 155 billion real ($43 billion) civil lawsuit against iron miner Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton for a dam spill which killed 19 people and polluted a major river in Brazil in November.

On the London Metal Exchange, three-month copper had finished lower by 1.1 percent at $4,867 a tonne, while three-month aluminium fell 50 cents to $1,633.50 a tonne. Iron ore China import prices were lower 2.4 percent at $61 a tonne.

Australia's March retail sales rose 0.4 percent from the previous month, but the uptick did not reflect strongly in the shares of major Australian retailers. Wesfarmers and Harvey Norman were down 1.64 percent and 0.63 percent respectively, while Woolworths was up 1.01 percent.

The Australian dollar/U.S. dollar pair was trading at 0.7493 at 3:17 p.m. SIN/HK. That's down from levels a tad above $0.77 before the Reserve Bank of Australia surprised markets on Tuesday with a 25 basis point interest rate cut to a record low 1.75 percent.

The Japanese yen, which is seen has a safe haven currency, remained relatively strong, with the dollar-yen pair at 107.26 at 3:17 p.m. SIN/HK time, down from levels over 111.50 last week. The currency pair this week tapped its lowest levels since October 2014, when the Bank of Japan launched its second massive round of quantitative easing.

The finished down 0.79 percent. The ended 0.56 percent lower, while the S&P 500 fell 0.59 percent, dragged down by energy and materials.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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