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Nikkei gains as yen steadies in a mixed Asian trading session

Asian shares open mixed

Asian markets were mixed on Wednesday, as sentiment hit from a lower finish on Wall Street offset the positive impact of a rise in oil prices.

Australia's benchmark ASX 200 closed nearly flat at 5.535.00, retracing earlier losses of nearly 0.4 percent, with the energy and materials sub-indexes advancing 1.91 and 0.83 percent, respectively.

In New Zealand, the NZX 50 closed up 44.35 points, or 0.6 percent, at 7,355.02.

Japanese shares led gains across the board, with the index finishing up 149.13 points, or 0.9 percent, at 16,745.64, while the Topix advanced 12.66 points, or 0.97 percent, to 1,311.13.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi fell 4.01 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,043.75.

In Hong Kong, the erased earlier gains, slipping 0.29 percent by late afternoon. Mainland Chinese markets ended a tad higher. The composite edged up 0.19 point, or 0.01 percent, to 3110.23, while the Shenzhen composite added 0.317 percent, or 6.47 points, to 2043.28.

On Tuesday, China announced plans to open its Shenzhen stock market to foreign investors, after the State Council said the government had approved plans for the launch of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect.

The program, which was modeled after the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect, would allow Shenzhen-based investors to buy Hong Kong-listed stocks and vice versa.

Analysts said the approval of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect was part of China's efforts to open up its financial sector to make it more competitive by international standards.

"Although the markets had expected an announcement after the successful conclusion of some technical issues recently, the Shenzhen-Hong Kong connect is an exorcism of the fall-out from the margin financed collapse of mainland stocks in 2015," strategists Sean Darby, Kenneth Chan and Irene Zhou from Jefferies, said in a note to clients.

The strategists added that alongside China's on-going reform of monetary policy tools and opening of the bond market, the approval of the stock connect "ought to assuage investors that financial reforms are still very much on the agenda, despite some recent tightening of the capital account."

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

The new program could spur foreign interest in Shenzhen shares, analysts said.

HSBC Singapore's senior vice president for renminbi Internationalization, Sunil Hiranandani, said the new trading link will introduce global investors to "China's new generation of Shenzhen-listed private sector companies, which include an array of innovative internet and technology players based in the Pearl River Delta."

He added it would also provide a "thrust for continued internalization of the renminbi."

In the currency market, the Japanese yen weakened against the dollar in the afternoon session, trading at 100.95 as of 2:26 p.m. HK/SIN. The yen touched an earlier session high of 100.14 and overnight, it climbed to levels around 99.68 to the dollar before retreating. That compared with levels above 101.00 last week.

Analysts told CNBC on Tuesday they expect further yen strength in the near future, following the market's disappointment with the Bank of Japan's (BOJ) stimulus plans.

"Without the Federal Reserve Board doing the heavy lifting (with a U.S. interest rate hike) and with the Japanese economy seemingly immune to monetary and fiscal stimulus, it will take little more than a few consecutive session probes below 100 yen for traders to be hotly testing the BOJ's resolve, while knocking on the post-Brexit spot level at 99.02 yen," said Stephen Innes, a senior trader at OANDA.

The relatively weaker currency likely gave Japanese manufacturers some support during the trading session, with Toyota shares advancing 2.23 percent, Honda up 3.38 percent and Canon up 1.27 percent.

Sharp shares were up 16.53 percent, after Taiwanese manufacturer Hon Hai completed its acquisition of the Japanese electronics maker earlier this week, following regulatory approval from China's antitrust body.

Elsewhere, the dollar fell against a basket of currencies, trading at 94.93 at 3:47 p.m. HK/SIN, off an earlier session low of 94.725, but still below the levels above 95.00 during Asian hours on Tuesday.

"Investors dumped U.S. dollars today, pushing the greenback lower against all of the major currencies," said Kathy Lien, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management, in a note late Tuesday.

"Fed Presidents [William] Dudley and [Dennis] Lockhart warned that the market is underpricing tightening and rates could rise this year ... yet based on the price action of the dollar, investors are not buying what [they] are saying," Lien said, adding the market was looking instead at soft U.S. data and using them as "arguments for why rates will remain unchanged this year."

Reuters reported Tuesday New York Fed President Dudley and Atlanta Fed chief Lockhart both said in public statements that the Fed could raise short-term interest rates at its September policy meeting.

In the commodities space, oil prices slipped again during Asian hours on Wednesday, after advancing nearly 2 percent on Tuesday, supported likely by further OPEC news and a relatively weaker dollar.

Global benchmark Brent slipped 0.75 percent to $48.86 a barrel by 3:47 p.m. HK/SIN, after climbing 1.8 percent overnight. U.S. crude futures dropped 0.67 percent to $46.27, following a 1.8 percent advance on Tuesday.

Hiroshi Watanabe | Getty Images

Energy plays across the region traded higher, with Santos up 0.82 percent, Oil Search gaining 2.44 percent and Woodside Petroleum up 2.35 percent. In Japan, Inpex shares advanced 6.46 percent, while Japan Petroleum was up 4.33 percent.

Reuters, citing sources at OPEC, reported that Saudi Arabia wants higher oil prices, which lent further credibility to speculation over possible OPEC action.

In company news, shares of BHP Billiton advanced 3.26 percent on the Australian market, following a 0.67 percent gain in London, as investors appeared to have been comforted by a better-than-expected underlying profit print despite the mining company reporting a record loss.

BHP, which announced its earnings on Tuesday after the Australian market close, said it posted a record $6.4 billion annual loss due to a slump in commodities and a dam disaster in Brazil.

Australian biotechnology firm CSL reported net profit after tax of $1.24 billion for the full year ended June 30, slipping from $1.38 billion booked in the previous year. Profit was dragged by CSL's acquisition of a money-losing flu vaccine business from Novartis.

Underlying net profit after tax, excluding the loss from the Novartis flu vaccine acquisition, was up 5.2 percent.

Investors, however, appeared unimpressed, as CSL shares sold off 5.06 percent on Wednesday.

Hong Kong airline carrier Cathay Pacific Airways' shares tumbled 7.31 percent in afternoon trade, after Reuters reported the company's first-half net profit tumbled 82 percent to 353 million Hong Kong dollars ($45.52 million) amid slower growth in China and a drop in consumer demand for premium class seats on long-haul flights.

Stateside, the slipped 84.03 points, or 0.45 percent, to 18,552.02; the S&P 500 index ended 12 points, or 0.55 percent, lower at 2,178.15 and the fell 34.90 points, or 0.66 percent, to 5,227.11.

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