Asia closes higher; Nikkei leads gains amid easing Brexit concerns

Asia markets closed higher while the pound rose on Monday, amid easing Brexit concerns after several weekend polls showed the remain camp regained momentum ahead of a referendum vote to decide the U.K.'s future within the European Union (EU).

Australia's ASX 200 advanced 94.13 points, or 1.82 percent, to 5,256.80, with a 2.32 percent increase in the financials sub-index, which accounts for nearly half of the broader index. The energy and materials sub-indexes also advanced 5.39 and 2.33 percent respectively.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 in Japan closed up 365.64 points, or 2.34 percent, at 15,965.30, as a relatively weaker yen took some pressure off stocks and investors ignored news of a more than 11 percent drop in Japanese exports for the month of May. Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi gained 27.72 points, or 1.42 percent, at 1,981.12. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index added 1.75 percent as of 2:35 p.m. HK/SIN.

Chinese markets retraced initial losses to close higher, with the Shanghai composite adding 3.48 points, or 0.12 percent, to 2,888.59, while the Shenzhen composite closed up 8.38 points, or 0.44 percent, at 1,909.12.

Indian markets traded mixed following news that Reserve Bank of India's governor Raghuram Rajan will be leaving his position once his current term ends. The Nifty 50 was up 0.44 percent while the Sensex added 0.45 percent as of 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN.

The Indian rupee, however, fell 0.48 percent against the dollar, with the pair trading at 67.385 in the afternoon local time, while other emerging market currencies advanced; it was the biggest one-day drop since May 2016. On Saturday, RBI governor Rajan said he would step down from his position in September, ending a three-year tenure. Rajan's policies as governor partly helped to shore up the rupee against the dollar.

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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Analysts said easing Brexit concerns saw risk appetite return among investors but cautioned that markets remain volatile.

Chris Weston, chief market strategist at spreadbettor IG, said risk appetite had increased after weekend polls showed momentum in favor of the remain camp in the Brexit referendum.

"With Brexit squarely in focus this week, markets have become hyper-sensitive to any new developments that might push the result one way or the other," said Wei Liang Chang, a foreign exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank.

Britons will head to the polls on June 23 to vote to decide if the U.K. should leave or stay within the 28-member EU trade bloc. If the leave camp won, the process of negotiating a British exit from the EU would begin, but talks could take more than two years.

Public opinion appeared to have slightly tilted in favor of the remain camp, according to several polls over the weekend.

A YouGov poll for The Sunday Times newspaper published at the weekend showed support for the remain camp had taken a narrow 44 percent against 43 percent lead over the leave campaign, based on polling conducted on Thursday and Friday.

Last week, a series of opinion polls showed public opinion was divided, with the leave camp holding a slight upper-hand. Campaigning for Brexit was then halted on Thursday after a pro-EU British lawmaker, Jo Cox, was killed while meeting with constituents. A 52-year-old man, Thomas Mair, was charged with her murder.

The International Monetary Fund warned on Friday of "negative and substantial" net economic effects should the U.K. choose to leave.

The British pound strengthened after some Brexit concerns eased; the pound traded at $1.4574 as of 2:45 p.m. HK/SIN on Monday, compared to levels around $1.40 on Thursday.

The dollar pulled back against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index trading at 93.675 Monday afternoon Asia time, compared to levels near 95.300 that it touched late last week.

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Meanwhile, the Japanese yen, considered a safe-haven asset, traded at 104.69 against the dollar, after pushing as high as 103.58 following the Bank of Japan's (BOJ) decision to stand pat on monetary policy on Thursday.

Major export stocks received a boost from the relative weakness in the yen, with shares of Toyota closing up 2.71 percent, Nissan up 2.67 percent and Sony higher by 3.05 percent.

Major yen crosses also traded higher, with the euro/yen at 118.68, from levels near 115.46 on Thursday. The pound/yen was up 152.56, compared to around 149.00 late last week.

"The BOJ has been keeping its power dry for the Brexit fallout," said Stephen Innes, a senior foreign exchange trader at OANDA, adding intervention will likely happen if the dollar/yen reaches the 100 handle as it would be perceived to be "unrelated to actual Japanese fundamentals."

Some of the impact of the yen's strength was felt in Japan's trade numbers, released before market open. Exports declined 11.3 percent on-year in May according to the Ministry of Finance data, versus a Reuters' median estimate for a 10.4 percent annual fall.

Oil prices advanced during Asian hours, with global benchmark Brent up 1.22 percent at $49.77 a barrel as of 2:48 p.m. HK/SIN, while U.S. crude added 1.13 percent to $48.52. Energy plays in the region were positive, with Santos shares advancing 9.56 percent, Woodside Petroleum up 5.94 percent and Inpex up 4.99 percent.

Spot gold, another safe-haven asset, fell some 1.11 percent to $1,283.76 an ounce on the back of easing Brexit concerns. Gold miners in Australia finished lower, with Newcrest shares down 2.54 percent and Evolution Mining down 2.97 percent.

Major government bond yields in the region retreated from their record lows last week, as investors put more money into riskier assets. The yield on the 10-year Japanese government bond was at negative 0.142, compared to Thursday's record low of negative 0.202. Bond prices move in an inverse direction to yields.

In company news, electronics giant Samsung said power supply to its China memory chip plant was disrupted on June 18 due to an outage, affecting a part of the production capacity at the facility, according to Reuters. The disruption affected fewer than 10,000 memory chip wafers at the plant, Reuters reported.

Investors appeared unconcerned over the news, with Samsung Electronics shares closing up 0.35 percent on Monday afternoon.

U.S. stocks closed lower Friday, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 57.94 points, or 0.33 percent, at 17,675.16; the S&P 500 index finished 6.77 points lower, or 0.33 percent, at 2,071.22. The Nasdaq composite ended down 44.58 points, or 0.92 percent, at 4,800.34.

The major U.S. indexes lost more than 1 percent each for the week amid global uncertainties.

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