Asia Markets

Asia markets end higher; Toshiba shares jump 22% after report it asked bidders to value its memory business at more than $17bn

Markets in Asia traded mostly higher on Wednesday, tracking U.S. gains, as investors await policy details from the Trump administration on tax reforms and deregulation.

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Japan's closed near flat at 19,379.87, while across the Korean Strait, the Kospi gained 3.68 points, or 0.17 percent, to 2,106.61.

Toshiba shares jumped 22.32 percent to 224.7 yen, following a Nikkei business daily report that said the troubled conglomerate asked potential bidders for its memory chip business to value the unit at a minimum of 2 trillion yen ($17.6 billion) or more.

Rakuten shares jumped 9.39 percent, after the company announced a share buyback program on Tuesday. Rakuten said it will buy back 8.4 percent of total shares outstanding, excluding treasury stock, for a maximum acquisition value of 100 billion yen.

The company's EVP and CFO, Yoshihisa Yamada, told CNBC on Wednesday the decision was driven by the market's perception of Rakuten's stock. "The underlying value of our businesses were not appreciated enough by the market. We thought our share price was undervalued and we're very confident about the growth of our company," he said.

The yen traded at 113.43 to the dollar, relatively weaker than levels reached earlier in the week and giving some boost to Japanese export stocks. Shares of Toyota rose 0.39 percent, Sony was up 0.40 percent and Canon added 1.04 percent.

Rakuten shares jump on 8.4% buyback

In Australia, the benchmark ASX 200 reversed losses to close up 14.07 points, or 0.24 percent, to 5,805.09.

Australian vitamin maker Blackmores fell 10.34 percent after the company reported net profit in the six months to Dec. 31 fell 41 percent to 28.5 million Australian dollars ($21.9 million), compared with A$75.8 million expected for the full year by analysts in a Reuters poll.

BHP Billiton closed down 0.67 percent after the Anglo Australian miner reported on Tuesday underlying first-half net profit rose almost eight-fold to $3.24 billion from $412 million a year earlier, but missed forecasts for $3.4 billion.

In Sydney, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) Governor, Philip Lowe spoke at an event where he suggested further interest rate cuts would not benefit Australia as it ran the risk of increasing household debt.

"Then at some point in the future, households having decided that they had borrowed too much, might cut back consumption sharply, hurting the overall economy and employment," Lowe said.

He emphasized flexible inflation targeting with a medium-term focus remained the RBA's monetary policy framework. At its February meeting, the central bank left the cash rate unchanged at 1.5 percent.

Hong Kong's climbed 0.85 percent in afternoon trade. Chinese mainland markets also gained, with the composite closing up 7.61 points, or 0.23 percent, to 3,260.93 and the Shenzhen composite added 9.19 points, or 0.46 percent to 1,990.33.

The session in Asia followed a positive day in the U.S. market as traders returned from a public holiday, with the S&P 500 climbing 0.6 percent.

"U.S. stock markets are currently a great example of the old trading adage that the trend is your friend," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

In the currency market, the traded at 101.50 AT 3:06 p.m. HK/SIN, rising from levels below 101.2 from earlier in the week.

"With no major U.S. economic reports on the calendar this week, the main question before us is whether Wednesday's FOMC minutes will give the dollar the kick it needs to propel higher," said Kathy Lien, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management.

The Australian dollar fetched $0.7689, while the euro slipped to $1.0527 from the previous week's levels above $1.060 amid growing political uncertainty in Europe.

Lien said investors are nervous about the anti-EU sentiment of political candidates in France and the Netherlands ahead of elections. "The fear is that Europe will become even more fractured in the coming years, as anti-EU, populist sentiment spreads across the region," she said.

Elsewhere, oil prices advanced Wednesday during Asian trade. Brent crude rose 0.23 percent to $56.79 a barrel at 3:07 p.m. HK/SIN, following a nearly 1 percent gain in the previous session.

U.S. crude gained 0.13 percent to $54.40, after rising 1 percent on Tuesday.

Reports said OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said at an industry conference in London that January data showed conformity from participating OPEC nations to cut back on output and said oil inventories will decline further this year.

But not all traders are convinced.

"We still have some doubts about the true compliance levels of OPEC/non-OPEC when one strips out Saudi Arabia's hard work," said Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the Reuters poll forecast for Blackmores earnings. The forecast was for full-year net profit.