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Japanese shares fall more than 1% as Trump-Xi summit eyed

STR | AFP | Getty Images

Asian markets were mostly lower on Thursday, as traders focused on a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping later in the day.

Trump has expressed ahead of the Florida summit that North Korea will be a key area of focus after the hermit state's latest ballistic missile launch. Trade will also be in the spotlight during the two-day summit — although it is unlikely that major breakthroughs will be made, DBS said in a note.

"(The) market is keeping expectations low for tangible outcomes in regards to trade and currency from the meeting. In particular, the yuan forwards' discount to the spot prices remains stable. It suggests investors see Trump's tough talk on currency manipulation a limited impact on Beijing's currency regime," the note added.

Japanese markets closed lower due to the strength in the yen. The Nikkei 225 dropped 1.40 percent or 264.21 points to finish at 18,597.03, and the Topix plunged by 1.63 percent or 24.48 points to finish at 1,480.18. The yen traded at a four-and-a-half-month high at 110.50 against the dollar on safe-haven buying.

South Korea's Kospi fell by 0.37 percent or 8.10 points to 2,152.75. Australian benchmark ASX 200 closed 0.34 percent or 19.897 points lower, pressured by its telecommunications and financials sub-indexes.

But mainland Chinese shares bucked the trend. The Shanghai Composite tracked higher by 0.35 percent or 11.29 points to close at 3,281.60, while the Shenzhen Composite climbed 0.297 percent or 6 points to finish at 2,029.21.

Hong Kong's benchmark Hang Seng Index was lower by 0.39 percent at 2:39 pm HK/SIN time.

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 corporate news, Toshiba reportedly sacked the chairman of Westinghouse Electric, its U.S. nuclear subsidiary, before the latter filed for bankruptcy last week. The Japanese conglomerate faces billions of dollars in losses due to massive cost overruns incurred by Westinghouse. Toshiba shares closed 0.05 percent lower to close at 214.8 yen.

Major Japanese automakers also tumbled on the back of the stronger yen. Honda shares closed 1.93 percent lower at 3,148 yen, while Toyota shares fell 1.68 percent to end at 5,810 yen.

Korean automakers were also under pressure in Asian trade. Kia Motors finished 0.28 percent lower at 35,850 won per share, while Hyundai Motor shares tumbled by 1 percent to finish at 148,000 won.

South Korean automakers are expected to come under pressure due to poorer sales in China and the U.S., Nomura research analyst Angela Hong said in a note. Hyundai Motor, she said, was likely to experience a further fall in net profits due to rising credit losses and funding costs.

Singtel shares were down 0.77 percent after the company's recent 564 million Singapore dollars ($402 million) expenditure on spectrum rights. However, S&P Global Ratings said its ratings on the Singaporean telco would remain unaffected.

On the energy front, oil prices eased after nearing one-month highs as supply outages in the North Sea were offset by an increase in U.S. crude inventories. During Asian trade, Brent futures fell by 0.42 percent to $54.13 a barrel while U.S. crude declined 0.47 percent to $50.91.

In FX markets, the dollar was weaker at 100.470 against a basket of major currencies at 2:19 pm HK/SIN time. The Australian dollar was steady at $0.7540, but still lower compared to levels around $0.76 seen before the RBA decision to hold policy on Tuesday.

On the economic data calendar, China reported its services sector grew the slowest level in six months in March. The Caixin Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) was above the 50-level, but came in at 52.2, lower than the 53.2 expected.

The Reserve Bank of India's monetary policy decision is due later in the day.

Markets in Thailand and Vietnam were closed for public holidays.

Stateside, all three major U.S. indexes closed in the red after the March FOMC minutes were released, with the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 recording their largest one-day reversals since February 2017. Last month's FOMC minutes reflected Fed officials' intention to unwind the central bank's balance sheet later in the year if economic data holds up.

U.S. markets could have also been spooked by House Speaker Paul Ryan's comments on tax policy, Uwe Parpart, chief strategist at Capital Link International, told CNBC. Ryan had said that tax reforms could take longer to achieve than health care reform.