Asia Markets

Asian shares mostly higher, FOMC meeting eyed

Kiroshi Watanabe | Getty Images

Asian shares were mostly higher on Wednesday after China's manufacturing sector showed signs of expansion in January and as investors looked ahead to the first review of policy this year by the Fed.

China's official manufacturing Purchasing Mangers Index (PMI) for January came in at 51.3, higher than a forecast of 51.2.

"This marks six consecutive months of expansion in the country's manufacturing sector and shows further stabilization of Asia's largest economy," said Margaret Yang, market analyst at CMC Markets, in a note on Wednesday.

Meanwhile its official services sector PMI came in at 54.6 in January. A figure above 50 represents expansion in the sector, while a figure below 50 indicates contraction.

Over in the U.S., the Fed is expected to hold steady, but investors will eye the tone of the statement after the U.S. central bank in December forecast as many as three interest rate hikes in 2017.

Also in focus is the disarray in currency markets, after U.S. President Donald Trump and his top economic adviser criticized Germany, Japan and China, saying the three countries' devalued currencies were hurting American firms and consumers.

Overnight, U.S. top trade adviser Peter Navarro accused Germany of using a "grossly undervalued" euro to gain advantage over the U.S. and its own European Union partners. These charges were rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said "Germany is a country that has always called for the European Central Bank to pursue an independent policy," in a news conference.

The euro climbed after the comments, hitting a two-month high of $1.0811 and pressured the dollar lower below the 100 handle. At 2:37 p.m. HK/SIN, the euro/dollar stood at $1.0779.

Navarro and Trump also attacked Japan and China, remarking that these U.S. trading partners were devaluing their currencies to hurt American companies and consumers.

The yen weakened slightly during the Asian session against the greenback, to trade at 113.26, as the Australian dollar held steady at $0.7563. The offshore yuan was weaker at 6.8369 against the dollar while the onshore yuan remains untraded during the Lunar New Year public holiday.

The dollar index remained under pressure trading at 99.8 after the comments, compared to levels above 100 seen this week.

Japan's closed up 0.56 percent or 106.7 points at 19,148.08.

Shares of Toshiba gained 0.83 percent at 244.3 yen each, earlier dropping as much as 3 percent after the Wall Street Journal reported that Toshiba will stop building nuclear power plants after incurring billions of dollars of losses to complete delayed projects in the U.S.

Gaming giant Nintendo dropped 2.14 percent to 22,625 yen a share after it cut its profit outlook by 10 billion yen ($88 million) due to weak console sales. It's latest console, the Switch, is expected to be released in March.

Mitsubishi Motors rallied 12.4 percent to 689 yen, after it revised its full fiscal year guidance from operating losses of 27.6 billion yen ($244 million) to profits of 1 billion yen ($8.8 million).

There is "appeal in contributions from new products, such as compact SUVs for global markets and minivans for Indonesia sales growth, synergies with Nissan Motor, and cost savings over the longer term," said Masataka Kunugimoto, research analyst at Nomura, in a note on Tuesday.

Australia's ASX 200 finished up 0.57 percent or 32.3 points at 5,653.2, underpinned by strength in its gold, energy, telecommunications, utilities and staples sub-indexes.

Over in South Korea, the benchmark Kospi added 0.62 percent or 12.9 points to close at 2,080.48, after trade data showed that January exports jumped 11.2 percent from the previous year, at its fastest pace of growth since 2012.

South Korea's December industrial output slipped 0.5 percent in December, missing a Reuters poll forecast expecting an increase of 0.3 percent.

Hong Kong's resumed trade from the Lunar New Year holiday break, and fell 0.57 percent by mid-afternoon.

Over in India, information technology industry lobby group Nasscom warned that the U.S. could impose tougher H-1B visa rules that unfairly targeting indian workers, Reuters reported. This could impact the largest players in India's IT sector, who use the H-1B visas to fly engineers and developers to service clients in the U.S.

Shares of Tata Consultancy Services fell 2.73 percent, Infosys dropped 1.9 percent and Wipro were down 0.87 percent.

Mainland Chinese markets will remain shut through Thursday for the Lunar New Year holiday. Markets in Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan are also shut for holidays.

In other currency news, the was weaker at $0.7263, below $0.7300 levels after data showed that New Zealand's jobless rate rose to 5.2 percent in the fourth-quarter and wage growth remained muted at 0.4 percent from the previous quarter, and 1.6 percent on-year.

On Tuesday during Asian hours, U.S. crude slipped 0.11 percent to $52.74 a barrel, as global benchmark Brent dipped 0.16 percent to $55.49.

Stateside, the fell 0.54 percent to close at 19,864.09, while the S&P 500 slipped 0.09 percent to finish at 2,278.87, and the finished up 0.02 percent at 5,614.79.

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