Asia markets higher as investors eye dollar direction

Asian equities were mostly higher Wednesday, following the stronger finish on Wall Street and a rise in oil prices overnight.

Oil prices rallied nearly 6 percent Tuesday on renewed hopes of an Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) output cut deal. During Asian trade, U.S. crude futures were up 0.55 percent at $46.05 a barrel and Brent futures climbed 0.66 percent to $47.26.

The Australian benchmark ASX 200 was nearly flat, closing up 0.03 percent, or 1.499 points, at 5,327.7, with the energy sub-index's 2.34 percent rise offset by the materials sub-index's 1.11 percent drop.

The Nikkei 225 closed up 1.1 percent, or 194.06 points, at 17,862.21 as the yen remained weak against the greenback. The dollar/yen traded at 109:07 as of 3:06 p.m. HK/SIN. The pair stood at around 105 on U.S. Election Day. A weaker yen tends to benefit exporters, which get a fillip when overseas earnings are repatriated into the home currency.

Nintendo jumped 2.78 percent to 25,550 yen after the Japanese game maker announced it would release its Super Mario Run mobile game on Dec. 15.

Chinese markets were mixed: The Shanghai composite closed down 0.05 percent, or 1.57 points, at 3,205.41, while the Shenzhen composite was up 0.021 percent, or 0.45 points, at 2,124.85.

The yuan continued to weaken against the dollar, trading at 6.8688 as of 2:15 pm HK/SIN, the Chinese currency's lowest since January 2009. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) lowered Wednesday's yuan midpoint for the ninth straight day to 6.8592, compared with the last close at 6.8565.

Shares in China's Leshi Internet Information & Technology, also known as LeEco, rose as much as 4.6 percent on news that it had secured more than $600 million of support for its automotive and high-tech business. But by mid-afternoon, LeEco was trading down 0.36 percent at 38.96 yuan per share.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was 0.61 percent higher as of 3:00 p.m. local time.

"Southbound funds flowing into Hong Kong stock market, via the Hong Kong-Shanghai link have accelerated over the last two days, showing rising interest from mainland investors after the recent sell-off," said Margaret Yang, market analyst at CMC Markets, in a note on Wednesday.

"Trading activities will probably pick up anticipating the launch of Hong Kong-Shenzhen link this month," she said.

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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South Korea's Kospi finished up 0.62 percent, or 12.12 points, at 1,979.65.

Hyundai Heavy Industries jumped 4.78 percent to 153,500 won, after the shipbuilder announced plans late on Tuesday to spin off its non-shipbuilding businesses into a separate company. The shipping industry in Asia has been under pressure recently, due to weak external demand and overcapacity.

In Asia, shares of oil majors were mostly higher. Australia's Santos was up 1.5 percent at A$4.06 and Oil Search added 3.35 percent to A$6.79. Japan's Inpex was up 2.96 percent at 1,045 yen, while South Korea's S-Oil fell 0.71 percent to 84,200 won.

U.S. government debt also saw a reprieve from its sell-off since Donald Trump won the presidential election.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.2278 percent as of 3:02 pm HK/SIN, compared with yields touching levels above 2.3 percent earlier this week. The 30-year Treasury bond's yield was down to 2.9611 percent, compared with levels above 2.96 percent on Monday.

But Mizuho economist Vishnu Varathan warned in a note on Wednesday that "this pause in bond markets to ponder or lock in profits should not be mistaken for a reversal [as the steepening of yield curves] promoted by Trump have not been significantly reversed."

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies, wavered around the 100 mark, to trade at 99.974 as of 3:03 p.m. HK/SIN. The dollar index, which had been flirting with levels above 100, got an extra boost above that level on Tuesday after the release of better-than-expected U.S. October retail sales.

The strong sales data raised expectations of a Fed rate hike in December, with the CME Group 30-Day Fed Fund futures pricing in a 90.6 percent probability for a December move.

"The December interest rate hike is very much a done deal now and what matter the most for us is to listen to the Fed statement carefully (in December) as this will provide enough clues for future interest rate hike trajectory," Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst from ThinkMarkets, said in a note out late Tuesday.

U.S. markets continued their upward momentum on Tuesday, buoyed by energy stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average finished up 0.29 percent at 18,923.06, while the S&P 500 was up 0.75 percent at 2,180.39. The Nasdaq composite finished up 1.1 percent at 5,275.62, led by a rebound in FANG stocks, or Facebook, Amazon,Netflix and Google parent Alphabet.

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