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Asia markets trade mixed as traders tread water ahead of Yellen speech

Markets in Asia finished mixed on Wednesday, as traders remained in a wait-and-see mode ahead of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's speech at Jackson Hole on Friday.

Japanese shares rose, with the Nikkei 225 finishing up 99.94 points, or 0.61 percent, at 16,597.30, while across the Korean Strait, the Kospi closed down 6.17 points, or 0.3 percent, at 2,043.76.

In Australia, the ASX 200 ended modestly higher, up by 7.92 points, or 0.14 percent, at 5,561.70. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 1.2 percent in late afternoon trade.

Chinese mainland markets were mixed; the Shanghai composite closed down 3.88 points, or 0.13 percent, at 3,085.82, while the Shenzhen composite added 6.22 points, or 0.30 percent, to 2,030.28.

Analysts at Singapore's OCBC Bank said in a research note that pinning down market sentiment was challenging in the current environment.

"Given the lack of major economic data out of the U.S., the sideways movement may still dominate [equity markets], especially with some anticipation that Janet Yellen's speech on Friday at the Jackson Hole symposium may just offer us some clues about the Fed's next steps," the OCBC analysts said.

On the energy front, oil prices remained volatile. On Wednesday during Asian hours, prices retreated with U.S. crude futures down 1.5 percent at $47.38 a barrel, after climbing 1.5 percent on Tuesday. Global benchmark Brent slipped 1.24 percent to $49.34, after gaining 1.6 percent overnight.

Oil's gains on Tuesday followed a Reuters report that said Iran was sending positive signals that it may support joint action to prop up the oil market.

Iran, which is OPEC's third-largest producer, has boosted production output since it returned to the international market this year when Western sanctions were lifted.

But Tuesday gains in oil prices were later pared when data from the American Petroleum Institute showed that U.S. crude inventories rose by 4.5 million barrels in the previous week, compared with analysts' expectations for a drawdown of 500,000 barrels, Reuters reported.

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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Energy plays in the region were mixed, with Santos closing up 0.44 percent, Woodside Petroleum up 0.86 percent and Inpex down 0.17 percent. Oil Search shares also fell 1.63 percent.

In the currency market, the dollar index, which measures the greenback's performance against a basket of currencies, edged higher to 94.646, compared with levels near 94.398 Tuesday afternoon Asia time. Analysts pinned the slight uptick in the dollar on better-than-expected U.S. home sales data.

But Maybank analysts said in a note that the market's building anticipation toward Yellen's Friday speech was "keeping the dollar in sideway trades."

The Japanese yen traded relatively weaker against the dollar at 100.35 as of 2:19 p.m. HK/SIN, compared with levels as high as 99.97 reached on Tuesday afternoon local time.

Relative weakness in the yen spurred Japanese export stocks higher, with Toyota shares gaining 2.05 percent, Nissan up 2.72 percent and Sony adding 2.15 percent.

In emerging market currencies, the South African rand fell overnight amid political concerns, while the Mexican peso stumbled after ratings agency S&P unexpectedly revised its credit outlook for the country to negative.

Emerging Asian currencies traded relatively weaker against the dollar on Wednesday, with the dollar/rupiah up 0.32 percent at 13,260, the dollar/ringgit up 0.32 percent at 4.03 and the dollar/baht up 0.14 percent at 34.66.

Citibank strategists said in a Wednesday note that declines in emerging-market currencies reflected "investors' readiness to trim their now-overweight exposure to emerging markets ahead of the Jackson Hole symposium."

But the Citibank strategists added that fears the Fed may signal a more hawkish stance on Friday will "prove unfounded" and that should, in turn, "allow EM duration and currencies room to renew modest rallies."

Heinz Zak | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

In company news, Australian airline carrier Qantas said its earnings for the 12 months ended June 30, 2016 were the best result in its 95-year history.

Qantas reported an underlying profit before tax of 1.53 billion Australian dollars ($1.17 billion) for the period, up 57 percent on-year. The company said its main divisions - including Qantas Domestic, Qantas International, the Jetstar Group and Qantas Loyalty - reported record results, as Qantas benefited from ongoing restructuring efforts.

The company declared a final dividend of 7 cents per share, which Reuters said was the first final dividend Qantas has announced since 2008. Qantas also said it will carry out a share buyback of up to A$366 million, which would likely help to boost its stock price.

Qantas shares closed up 1.47 percent at A$3.45.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong-listed shares of China Vanke were down 1.19 percent, while the Shenzhen-listed shares closed down 2.87 percent. Ratings agency S&P on Wednesday said it revised its outlook on Vanke to negative from stable, while affirming its BBB+ long-term rating.

S&P said the revision reflected the "increasing likelihood that the tension among the key shareholders and the management team could ultimately weaken the company's steady business execution and good financial discipline."

The company has been embroiled in an ongoing, high-profile battle for control.

Elsewhere, global commodity trader Glencore reported its first-half numbers for the six months through June 30, with adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization falling 13 percent on-year to $4.02 billion.

Glencore said it was targeting to cut net debt to between $16.5 billion and $17.5 billion by the end of 2016 through asset sales.

"We have already largely achieved our asset disposals target of $4-5 billion with a diverse and material pool of asset sales' processes also on-going. Our divestment strategy remains one of maximising value for shareholders through identifying assets where overall Glencore franchise positioning, optionality and value is substantially preserved or even enhanced," said Glencore's chief executive officer, Ivan Glasenberg, in a statement.

Stateside, the Dow Jones industrial average added 17.88 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,547.3. The S&P 500 index gained 4.26 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,186.9, while the Nasdaq advanced 15.47 points, or 0.3 percent, to 5,260.08.

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