Asia Markets

Asia markets end mixed ahead of Brexit referendum vote

Vasily Maximov | AFP | Getty Images

Markets in Asia closed mixed on Thursday, as investors remained on edge ahead of the U.K. vote on whether to leave the European Union (EU).

Australia's ASX 200 ended up 9.75 points, or 0.19 percent, at 5,280.70, with the materials sub-index advancing 1.62 percent. Major miners saw more than 1 percent advances, with shares of Rio Tinto closing up 2.74 percent and Fortescue rising 8.28 percent.

In Japan, the ended up 172.63 points, or 1.07 percent, at 16,238.35, while across the Korean Strait, the Kospi ended down 5.87 points, or 0.29 percent, at 1,986.71.

Chinese mainland markets closed down, with the composite shedding 13.49 points, or 0.46 percent, to 2,892.05 and the Shenzhen composite ending lower by 6.17 points, or 0.32 percent, at 1,915.20. In Hong Kong, the index edged up 0.2 percent in late-afternoon trading.

Market moves were relatively muted, despite lingering uncertainty over the U.K. referendum. Britons head to the polls on Thursday to cast a vote that would determine if the United Kingdom (U.K.) should remain or leave the 28-member EU trade bloc.

"Markets seem to have almost entirely priced in a 'remain' vote win, meaning that the market moves and volatility around the vote may be far less than many had expected," Angus Nicholson, a market analyst at spreadbettor IG, said.

But Nicholson cautioned that markets were nervous and "some sharp market moves are likely over the next 24 hours."

In a likely sign that the market might be pricing in a "remain" vote, the pound traded up at $1.4761 as of 3:14 p.m. HK/SIN, compared with levels near $1.40 in the previous week.

The greenback was relatively weaker against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index down 0.24 percent to 93.493, compared with levels near 95.300 in the previous week. The euro traded higher against the dollar, fetching $1.1333, compared with around $1.1295 Wednesday.

Wei Liang Chang, a foreign exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank, said in a note the euro/dollar pair was helped "by a buoyant pound as well as broader dollar weakness."

"Markets are likely to focus on the take up of Targeted Long-Term Financing Operation (TLTRO) II auction yesterday, with the result to be released on Friday," he said.

The European Central Bank (ECB) on Wednesday launched a new round of cheap loans in its efforts to boost lending in a bid to revive economic growth and inflation in the euro zone, reported Reuters. The TLTRO II was announced in March by the ECB as part of its accommodative monetary policy and will be conducted in June, September and December of this year and in March 2017.

The Japanese yen maintained its relative strength against the dollar, trading at 104.43 as of 3:18 p.m. HK/SIN. The currency strengthened from levels near 106 against the greenback following the Bank of Japan's decision to keep monetary policy unchanged earlier this month.

Shares of Sharp Corp pared some gains to close up 6.4 percent, following reports that new controlling shareholder Foxconn said it would terminate some costly operations. The Japanese business daily Nikkei also reported that Sharp will begin OLED shipments next year.

In South Korea, shares of Hyundai Merchant Marine surged 29.96 percent. Dow Jones reported Thursday that the struggling company had entered negotiations to join 2M, the world's largest shipping alliance.

Oil prices fell more than 1 percent overnight after data showed the drawdown in U.S. crude inventory was lower than what the market expected. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a stockpile decline of 917,000 barrels for the week ended June 17, Reuters reported. This was below the 1.7 million-barrel drawdown that analysts polled by Reuters had forecast.

During Asian hours, oil prices advanced, with the global benchmark Brent up 0.72 percent at $50.24 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures added 0.73 percent to $49.49.

Stateside, the closed down 48.90 points, or 0.27 percent, at 17,780.83. The S&P 500 index was down 3.45 points, or 0.17 percent, at 2,085.45, while the composite fell 10.44 points, or 0.22 percent, at 4,833.32.

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