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Markets in Asia traded mixed on Wednesday, with Japanese shares gaining on the back of a weaker yen, while traders awaited the key August U.S. nonfarm payroll data due Friday.
The Nikkei 225 ended up 0.97 percent, or 162.04 points, at 16,887.40, while the Topix added 1.27 percent, or 16.73 points, to 1329.54. The Japanese yen traded at 103.17 against the greenback as of 2:37 p.m. HK/SIN; earlier in the session, the pair climbed as high as 103.24, its highest in around a month.
Yen weakness bolstered major export stocks, with shares of Toyota up 0.84 percent, Nissan up 1.20 percent and Canon adding 1.98 percent. Japanese banks also advanced, with shares of Mitsubishi UFJ up 4.19 percent, while SMFG added 4.26 percent.
On Tuesday, Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said officials were ready to intervene in the foreign exchange market to contain any rapid appreciation in the yen, Reuters reported.
Suga's comments followed remarks from Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who said on Saturday that the central bank would not hesitate to approve more quantitative easing or lower interest rates further into negative territory to tackle the economic challenges Japan faced.
Other major markets in the region struggled. South Korea's Kospi index ended down 0.25 percent, or 5.09 points, at 2034.65. In Australia, the ASX 200 shed 0.83 percent, or 45.29 points, to 5433, with most sectors trading lower. The energy and materials sectors were down 1.05 and 2.40 percent, respectively, on the back of lower commodity prices overnight.
Hong Kong's closed down 0.17 percent, or 39.23 points, at 22,976.88. Chinese mainland markets were modestly higher, with the Shanghai composite up 0.35 percent, or 10.81 points, at 3085.48, and the Shenzhen composite gaining 0.22 percent, or 4.52 points, at 2032.87.
During Asian hours on Wednesday, oil prices lost ground in afternoon trade. The global benchmark Brent traded off 0.74 percent at $48.01 a barrel, while U.S. crude futures were down 0.45 percent at $46.14 at 4:36 p.m. HK/SIN. Oil prices retreated more than 1 percent on Tuesday, amid oversupply concerns and a stronger dollar.
Energy plays in the region were mixed. Australian oil plays were mostly lower, with Santos shares down 1.33 percent, Oil Search off 2.89 percent and Woodside Petroleum down 0.87 percent. Japanese oil stocks were mixed, with Inpex up 2.51 percent and Fuji Oil down 0.94 percent.
In the currency market, the dollar advanced against a basket of currencies to trade at 96.055 as of 2:43 p.m. HK/SIN on Wednesday, coming off an earlier session high of 96.140. The dollar had climbed from levels below 94.500 to levels above 95.500 on Friday after remarks from U.S. Federal Reserve officials suggested an interest rate hike might be forthcoming.
Some analysts pointed to remarks made by U.S. Federal Reserve vice chair Stanley Fischer in recent media interviews as a driver of U.S. dollar strength.
Fischer had told CNBC on Friday that the U.S. economy was stronger and that the next jobs report would factor into the Fed's decision on when to hike rates.
On Tuesday, Fischer spoke to Bloomberg TV, where he did not say when the Fed would raise rates, but instead reiterated the central bank's data dependency on deciding when to hike interest rates, adding that the U.S. was very close to full employment.
Mizuho Bank's senior economist Vishnu Varathan said Fischer's remarks had a critical role in pushing the dollar higher.
"It appears markets focused a little more on his 'can't say one and done' reference to rate hikes than his qualifier that pace of tightening will be data dependent, given that Fischer alluded to near-full employment conditions in the economy," said Varathan in a Wednesday note.
Traders will closely watch the August nonfarm payroll data in the U.S. due Friday as it is the one of the final major data releases before the Federal Open Market Committee's monetary policy meeting in September. A strong jobs number could set the tone for the Fed's policy moves for the rest of the year.
The Australian dollar, which fell from levels near $0.7690 on Friday before the Fed officials' remarks to levels near $0.7550 afterward, continued to struggle against the relatively stronger greenback. The Aussie traded at $0.7507 at 2:45 p.m. HK/SIN.
In company news, Hong Kong-listed shares of Chinese property developer Evergrande fell 6.94 percent, after Reuters reported the company posted a 23 percent drop in first-half core profit,weighed by higher costs.
Analysts at CIMB Bank downgraded Evergrande to reduce from a previous hold rating, citing a jump in net gearing and the use of perpetual bonds.
"Such high leverage could put the company at high risk if there is a sudden change in liquidity or a sharp slowdown in the property market in China," the analysts wrote. "We do not think perpetual bonds are ideal source of funding due to high cost and earnings erosion. We believe Evergrande needs to fund its growth in a more disciplined way."
Elsewhere, Shenzhen-listed shares of China Vanke jumped 10.02 percent and its Hong Kong-listed shares fell 0.10 percent, following a Reuters report that said Nexus Capital Management, a Hong Kong-listed fund, increased its stake in the company.
Ratings agency Fitch maintained its BBB+ rating on Vanke with a stable outlook, citing demonstration of "rapid asset turnover and stable, low leverage with improved margins" in an improving China housing market.
Overnight, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 48.69 points, or 0.26 percent, to close at 18,454.30. The S&P 500 index was down 4.26 points, or 0.2 percent, at 2,176.12, while the Nasdaq finished down 9.34 points, or 0.18 percent, at 5,222.99.
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