Asia markets lose ground; Samsung Group in focus after report senior executives offer to resign

Jung Yeon-je | AFP | Getty Images

Markets in Asia traded mostly lower on Friday, with Samsung Group in focus after reports said senior executives tied to an ongoing corruption scandal offered to resign, while its flagship brand introduced new transparency measures to handle large financial donations.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said two senior executives at the conglomerate offered to resign to take responsibility for the group's involvement in the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye, according to Reuters. They were identified as suspects by the South Korean special prosecution in the investigation, said Reuters, which led to the arrest of group chief Jay Y. Lee last week.

Samsung Electronics announced a series of measures on Friday aimed to bring greater transparency and accountability in managing financial donations and monetary support for their corporate social responsibility (CSR)-related activities and funds. The company said financial donations and CSR funding of more than 1 billion Korean won ($882,460) will require the approval from the board and will be publicly disclosed.

Previously, Yonhap also reported that Samsung is planning to abolish its future strategy office, responsible for making key decisions and coordinating the various business units, as early as next month.

Meanwhile, the Korea Herald said, citing an industry source, that Samsung Electronics is expected to hold a shareholder meeting on March 24.

Samsung Group shares finished mostly lower: Samsung Electronics was down 2.5 percent and Samsung SDI was off by 0.4 percent, while Samsung C&T inched higher by 0.8 percent.

The broader benchmark Kospi closed down 13.51 points, or 0.64 percent, at 2,094.12, while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index traded down 0.50 percent in the afternoon.

Standard Chartered will release its earnings for the year ended Dec. 31 late afternoon Asia time, with its mix of Asia and emerging market exposure and London and Hong Kong ties closely-watched by investors. Its competitor HSBC reported earlier in the week a 62 percent slump in annual pre-tax profit .

Standard Chartered shares traded up 0.34 percent in Hong Kong, while HSBC shares fell 0.7 percent.

Chinese mainland shares ended fractionally higher, with the Shanghai composite up 0.05 percent to 3,253.03, while the Shenzhen composite added 8.39 points, or 0.42 percent, to 2,000.37.

Japan's Nikkei 225 finished down 87.92 points, or 0.45 percent, at 19,283.54 as some export stocks came under pressure from a relatively stronger yen trading at 112.84 to the dollar, strengthening from levels above 113.0 earlier this week.

Shares of Toyota fell 0.77 percent, Honda was down 0.48 percent and Sony was off by 0.83 percent.

Toshiba shares rose 4.14 percent in a volatile session, following reports on Thursday that South Korea's SK Hynix will consider a fresh bid for the troubled conglomerate's flash memory chip business if it offered more of it for sale. SK Hynix shares were down 5.38 percent.

Toshiba also said Friday it was not aware of any plans that its U.S. nuclear unit, Westinghouse, was considering filing for court protection for its business operations, according to Reuters. Earlier in the morning, the Nikkei business daily, citing a company official, said Toshiba was thinking about seeking court-approved protection as one of the options for the U.S. unit.

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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In Australia, the ASX 200 fell 45.67 points, or 0.79 percent, to 5,738.98, with the materials sector falling 2.09 percent. Resources producers were mostly lower, with major miners losing more than 3 percent each.

Shares of Rio Tinto closed down 4.15 percent, Fortescue was off 3.38 percent and BHP Billiton declined 3.02 percent.

The session in Asia followed a mixed close in the U.S. on the back of comments made by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

In an interview with CNBC's "Squawk Box," Mnuchin said he wants to see "very significant" tax reform passed before Congress' August recess.

"We want to get this done by the August recess. We've been working closely with the leadership in the House and the Senate and we're looking at a combined plan," he said.

Some analysts said Mnuchin's remarks on tax reform serve as a reminder of the "scope" of the task ahead for the U.S. government in introducing major tax changes.

"Markets are reacting to the risk of delay in fiscal stimulus and unwinding some of the recent optimism that followed President Trump's phenomenal tax package remarks," said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Currency experts said the dollar has been softer in response as traders continue to wait for important details on tax reforms and fiscal stimulus from the Trump administration.

The dollar index traded at 101.00 at 2:16 p.m. HK/SIN on Friday, falling from levels near 101.60 reached earlier in the week.

Among other currency majors, the Australian dollar fetched $0.7714, while the euro traded at $1.0582, climbing from levels near $1.0500 in the previous session.

Analysts, however, said hawkish Fed policy and political uncertainty in Europe will likely limit any "meaningful rally" in the euro/dollar pair.