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Nikkei up 0.9% as Japanese shares lead gains on weaker yen; rest of Asia falters

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Japanese shares led gains in a mostly flat-to-lower trading session in Asia on Thursday, as a weaker yen bolstered shares in export-oriented firms in catch-up trade after a public holiday Wednesday.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 finished up 170.47 points, or 0.94 percent, to 18,333.41, while the Topix index advanced 12.46 points, or 0.86 percent, to 1,459.96. The yen weakened further against the dollar to trade at 112.76 at 2:19 p.m. HK/SIN, compared with levels near 111.04 in the previous session and at levels below 110 in the previous week.

The weak yen pushed exporter stocks in Japan higher, with Toyota shares climbing 4.79 percent, Nissan up 2.59 percent and Honda gaining 3.93 percent. Shares of electronics maker Sharp rose 3.28 percent, while Panasonic advanced 2.90 percent.

In South Korea, the Kospi slipped 16.69 points, or 0.84 percent, to 1,971.26, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 0.30 percent at 2:33 p.m. HK/SIN.

Investigators in South Korea raided offices of Lotte Group, SK Group and government agencies on Thursday as part of a widening probe into alleged influence-peddling that has engulfed President Park Guen-hye, reported Reuters.

The businesses were suspected of providing money to foundations controlled by Choi Soon-sil, who is a close friend of President Park and is at the center of a growing scandal in the country, said Reuters.

Shares of Lotte Shopping fell 2.20 percent, Lotte Himart slipped 1.73 percent and Lotte Chemical was down 1.21 percent. SK Hynix shares fell 0.93 percent.

On Wednesday, investigators had raided offices of Samsung Group and the National Pension Service, South Korea's largest pension fund, as part of the investigation.

Chinese mainland shares traded mostly lower, with the Shanghai composite closing near flat at 3,241.48 and the Shenzhen composite down 8 points, or 0.38 percent, at 2,121.49.

In Australia, the ASX 200 wavered between gains and losses throughout the session, but closed near flat at 5,485.07. The heavily-weighted financial sector rose 0.25 percent, but the energy and materials sectors fell 0.50 and 0.60 percent, respectively.

Shares of Boral, which is in the building and construction materials business, closed down 13.31 percent, after the company announced the acquisition of U.S.-based Headwaters for an enterprise value of $2.6 billion.

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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The session in Asia followed a largely positive finish in the U.S., where the Dow and S&P 500 index ended at record closing highs for the second consecutive session. But the Nasdaq slipped.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 59.31 points, or 0.31 percent, to close at 19,083.18, while the S&P 500 rose 1.78 points, or 0.08 percent, to close at 2,204.72. The Nasdaq composite slipped 5.67 points, or 0.11 percent, to end at 5,380.68. U.S. markets will be closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday and open for a half-day on Friday.

"Volumes have been poor through U.S. equity markets and that's hardly a surprise given the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, but the juggernaut that is the bull market continues," said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at spreadbettor IG, in a note.

The dollar rose against a basket of currencies during U.S. hours on Wednesday, following the release of the Federal Reserve's November meeting minutes, which backed the consensus view that the central bank is poised to raise rates in December. The dollar index last traded at 101.79 at 2:40 p.m. HK/SIN, up from levels near 101.02 on Wednesday afternoon Asia time, and at a level not seen since 2003.

Meanwhile, the euro slipped to $1.0542, from levels above $1.06, while the pound was at $1.2431. The on-shore yuan fetched 6.9199 versus the greenback, after the People's Bank of China set the yuan mid-point at 6.9085, its weakest level since June 10, 2008. The central bank allows the currency to float within a 2 percent range from the daily fix.

Other emerging market currencies also fell against the greenback. The Indian rupee traded at 68.63 versus the dollar, reaching near levels not seen since the record lows hit in 2013. The Philippine peso also fell to 49.94, down at a 8-year low.

In the energy market, oil prices moved little on Thursday during Asian hours, after gaining slightly in the Wednesday session. Traders reacted to overnight inventory data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which showed crude inventories fell 1.3 million barrels in the week to Nov. 18, compared with market expectations for a build of 671,000 barrels, according to Reuters.

U.S. crude futures traded up 0.15 percent at $48.03 at 2:42 p.m. HK/SIN, after rising 0.4 percent on Wednesday, while global benchmark Brent was flat at $48.97 a barrel, following an overnight gain of 0.3 percent.

"Oil was the commodity that the market forgot overnight. The dollar steamroller passed crude by as currency markets were heavily sold against the greenback," said Jeffrey Halley, senior analyst at OANDA, in a note.

"Clearly the Thanksgiving Holiday today has thinned traders interest, but given the general dollar rally overnight, it is clear that the OPEC result next Wednesday is the only game in town for energy traders," he added.

Spot gold retreated to levels near $1,180 on Thursday from levels above $1,220 an ounce in the previous week as investors moved back into risky assets such as equities, following record finishes in U.S. stocks in recent sessions. A stronger dollar also weighs on the yellow metal as gold is denominated in the greenback.

At 2:43 p.m. HK/SIN, spot gold traded at $1,186.60 an ounce, sending Australian gold miners lower. Shares of Newcrest fell 3.86 percent, while Evolution mining was off by 5.10 percent and Alacer Gold fell 4.92 percent. Kingsgate bucked the trend to rise 13.64 percent.

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