Asia Markets

South Korean shares retrace losses as Park ofter to step down

Asia markets mixed in early trade

South Korean shares retraced losses late Tuesday afternoon, as investors reacted to a televised speech by President Park Geun-hye offering to step down through a legal process, according to reports.

Park, who is embroiled in an influence-peddling scandal, apologized and said she would step down from her position in accordance with the law, asking legislators to aid her in handing over power with minimal political unrest, said Reuters.

The scandal broke out when reports said Park's friend, Choi Soon-sil, who holds no post in the government, provided her advice on state affairs, suggesting Choi also had access to classified material related to national security and economic policies. Since then, hundred of thousands have protested in South Korea, calling on her to quit or be impeached.

The benchmark Kospi climbed 0.18 percent following Park's speech after previously falling near 0.2 percent. At market close, the index gave up the gains to close flat. The Kosdaq index finished up 3.02 points, or 0.51 percent, at 596.07. The Korean won strengthened from levels near 1,170 to around 1,168.50 after the announcement.

Meanwhile, Japanese markets slipped, despite the release of government data hinting at a stabilization in domestic demand.

The country's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was steady in October at 3 percent, the same level as August.

Household spending in Japan fell 0.4 percent on-year in October, but it fell at a slower pace than the median estimate for a 0.6 percent decline, according to Reuters. Separately, retail sales slipped 0.1 percent on-year for the same month, falling less than the Reuters median estimate for a 1.2 percent annual drop.

The closed down 49.85 points, or 0.27 percent, at 18,307.04, while the Topix fell 1.01 points, or 0.07 percent, to 1,468.57. Japanese shares were likely pressured by a slightly stronger yen, which traded at 111.98 against the dollar on Tuesday afternoon in Asia, climbing from levels near 113.00 in the previous week.

Major exporters sensitive to the yen closed mixed. Among automakers, Toyota fell 0.20 percent, Honda was off by 0.54 percent and Mazda fell 1.02 percent. Electronics maker Sharp was down 1.08 percent, while Canon and Nikon climbed 0.40 and 1.87 percent, respectively.

The rest of Asian markets were mixed, taking cues from the U.S. where a post-election rally appeared to stumble. Traders also looked ahead to key global events set to take place this week, including a meeting on Wednesday between the world's largest oil producers and the release of the U.S. nonfarm payroll report on Friday.

Australia's benchmark ASX 200 finished down 6.9 points, or 0.13 percent, at 5,457.50, while Hong Kong's was down 0.19 percent. Chinese mainland markets were mixed, with the composite closing up 6.36 points, or 0.19 percent, at 3,283.36 and the Shenzhen composite fell 16.46 points, or 0.77 percent, to 2,110.36.

Major indexes in Singapore, India, Indonesia and Thailand traded higher in the afternoon.

Stateside, the closed 54.24 points, or 0.28 percent, lower at 19,097.90. The S&P 500 index fell 11.63 points, or 0.53 percent, to close at 2,201.72, while the dropped 30.11 points, or 0.56 percent, to end at 5,368.81.

Hitoshi Yamada | NurPhoto | Getty Images

In the currency market, the dollar pulled back against a basket of currencies to trade at 101.24, after falling to 100.64 in the Monday session. That was down from levels near 102.00 in the previous week.

The slip in the dollar saw other major currencies trade higher; the Australian dollar was at $0.7481, up from levels below $0.7400 last week and buoyed by higher metal prices. The euro was at $1.0607, climbing from below $1.055, while the pound traded at $1.2412.

The also strengthened to 6.8915 against the dollar, after hovering near 6.9200 last week.

Treasurys also rose in the U.S. during the Monday session, with the two-year note yield dropping to 1.107 percent, while the benchmark 10-year yield traded lower at 2.314 percent.

The pull-back across asset classes could suggest market watchers' enthusiasm for the Trump administration was waning.

Stephen Innes, a senior trader at OANDA, said in a note that traders were not rushing back to "reinstate long dollar just yet" and were waiting for noteworthy U.S. fiscal stimulus clues from the new Trump administration, while hedging fall-out risk from the upcoming Italian referendum.

But some analysts pointed out that the change in direction was more indicative of short-term market moves, rather than any fundamental reassessment of what Trump's economic policies might look like in practice.

"We are much more inclined to view the dollar-yen-led decline in the dollar, modest dip in bond yields and softer stocks as more reflective of short-term market positioning," Ray Attrill, global co-head of foreign exchange strategy at the National Australia Bank, said in a note.

Key takeaways from Samsung's conference call

In company news, shares of electronics giant Samsung finished flat at 1,677,000 won, after the smartphone maker said in a statement on Tuesday it was reviewing if it should transition to a holding company structure.

The announcement comes after U.S. activist hedge fund Elliott Management proposed in October that the company split itself into a holding vehicle for ownership purposes and an operating company, according to Reuters.

Samsung also said it will allocate 50 percent of its free cash flow to shareholder returns for 2016 and 2017, and said it would pay a dividend of 28,500 won ($24.36) per share in 2016, up 36 percent on-year.

Hong Kong-listed shares of Standard Chartered fell 0.81 percent after the South China Morning Post reported the British bank will cut one in every 10 of its global headcount in corporate and institutional banking as it makes a new effort to reduce overheads to restore profitability.

Shares of HSBC also dropped 1.22 percent in Asia.

The Bank of England is set to unveil on Wednesday the results of stress tests done on the performances of seven major UK banks. Some analysts expect HSBC and Standard Chartered to be the most at risk of failure due to an exposure to Chinese credit.

Oil prices pulled back on Tuesday during Asian hours, after gaining more than 2 percent during the U.S. session on Monday, ahead of OPEC's official meeting Wednesday.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabian energy minister Khalid al-Falih had cast fresh doubts over the cartel's ability to agree a proposed production cut when he said the oil market, currently suffering from a supply glut, would re-balance in 2017 even without intervention from producers, reported Reuters.

Meanwhile, a Monday meeting between OPEC and non-OPEC producers was called off after Saudi Arabia declined to attend, Reuters added.

U.S. crude futures traded down 0.76 percent at $46.72 a barrel at 2:39 p.m. HK/SIN, after closing up 2.21 percent in the previous session. Global benchmark Brent fell 0.81 percent to $47.85, after rising 2.12 percent overnight.

— Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.