Asia Markets

Asian shares cautious as geopolitical risks heighten


Asian shares were mostly higher, dismissing earlier concerns about increased geopolitical risks in Asia after North Korea fired multiple ballistic missiles.

North Korea fired multiple missiles off its east coast, which flew about 1,000 km (620 miles), South Korea's military said, while Japan said three missiles landed inside its exclusive economic zone and that it would not tolerate the hermit state's provocative actions.

Japan's finished down 0.46 percent or 90 points at 19,379.1, and the Kospi recovered from earlier losses to trade up 0.13 percent or 2.6 points at 2,081.36.

Australia's ASX 200 closed up 0.3 percent or 16.9 points at 5,746.5, after January retail sales increased by 0.4 percent from the previous month — inline with expectations from a Reuters poll.

Mainland Chinese stocks were higher. The closed up 0.5 percent or 16 points at 3,234.4 and Shenzhen composite added 1.18 percent or 23.6 points to close at 2,025.5.

Hong Kong's index was up 0.28 percent by mid-afternoon.

'Positive signals' from the Chinese economy: Strategist

At the weekend, Premier Li Keqiang sounded a cautious note at the annual meeting of parliament that began Sunday, and said that China would expand its economy by around 6.5 percent, compared to the growth target of 6.5 to 7 percent set last year.

Other notable targets from Li's speech include China aiming for an annual consumer price index (CPI) of around 3 percent, and an annual budget deficit of 3 percent of gross domestic product, and 2017 M2 growth of about 12 percent.

The annual National People's Congress (NPC) will also kick off today and last until March 15.

"Stability is the main objective this year [which] is not surprising given the key 19th Party Plenum in Oct/Nov where the Communist Party of China (CPC) will name a new set of leaders," said Nizam Idris, Gareth Berry, and Teresa Lam, strategists at Macquarie Bank, in a Monday note.

In other news, South Korea's trade minister said that the government would strengthen its response to China's recent discrimination towards South Korea companies. Local South Korean media reported that Beijing ordered local travel agencies in the capital to stop selling the China-Korea route trip packages both online and offline.

During Asian trade, Brent crude futures was off 0.68 percent to $55.53 a barrel and U.S. crude fell 0.75 percent to $52.93. after both crude futures jumped more than 1 percent last Friday on the back of the softer dollar.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Secretary Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo told reporters ahead of CERAWeek energy conference in Houston that OPEC will decide in May whether to extend its production deal with non-OPEC members. Barkindo added that a monitoring committee will meet on March 25.

Markets stateside posted weekly gains last Friday, after Federal Reserve head Janet Yellen emphasized the possibility of a rate hike this month.

The rose just 0.01 percent to 21,005.71, the S&P 500 index lifted 0.05 percent to 2,383.12 while the composite finished up 0.16 percent to 5,870.75.

Expectations for a Fed rate increase in March were up at 79.7 percent, according to CME Group's FedWatch tool, but the risk of a weak nonfarm payrolls report due this Friday remains.

In other news, Deutsche Bank plans to raise capital and list its asset management business and overhaul its business structure after spending two years dealing with past scandals and massive losses, Reuters reported.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of major currencies, was trading at 101.48 after falling from the 102 handle last week on Yellen's rate rise comments. The yen strengthened against to greenback to 113.72, earlier above 114, as the Australian dollar tracked $0.7587.

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