Asia Markets

Asian markets mixed, Korean peninsula tensions in focus; Nikkei down 1%

Key Points
  • Xi and Trump talk on North Korea
  • US Naval forces near Korean Peninsula
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

Asian markets closed mixed on Wednesday, as tensions continue to ratchet up on the Korean Peninsula following a warning from North Korea of a nuclear attack on the U.S.

North Korean state media said on Tuesday that the hermit state was watching every move made by "enemy elements" and that its "nuclear sight (was) focused on the U.S. invasionary bases."

The development takes place as a U.S. aircraft carrier group makes its way toward the western Pacific following multiple missile launches from North Korea earlier in this year.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet that "North Korea is looking for trouble," adding that the U.S. would solve the problem with or without the help of China. For its part, Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted by state media as saying that in a telephone call with Trump he stressed situation on the Korean Peninsula should be solved peacefully.

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Demand for safe-haven assets has surged in reaction to geopolitical uncertainty, with spot gold prices reaching their highest level since mid-November last year, at $1,274.81 an ounce.

"The global macro picture has been muddied by a rise in geopolitical tensions, economic data releases overnight have been largely ignored and safe haven assets have outperformed," National Australia Bank currency strategist Rodrigo Catril said in a note.

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Meanwhile, U.S. 10-year Treasury yields traded at 2.3 percent, earlier slipping below the 2.3 percent lower range band it had been trading at since last December.

"Traders are eyeing ... whether the U.S. 10-year Treasury could close through 2.3 percent and the bottom of the multi-month trading range. That concern has materialized with the close at 2.29 percent, ... one suspects a more convincing break here takes the yield down to 2 percent," IG's chief market strategist Chris Weston said in a note.

The flight to safety also saw the yen climb to its highest level in around 5 months. The dollar/yen traded at 109.66 at 3:10 pm HK/SIN time, after trading at the 111 level earlier in the week. The dollar was traded at 100.64 against a basket of currencies, off the 3-week high set on Monday, while the Aussie was weaker against the dollar at $0.7488, slipping below the $0.75 handle from the previous session.

Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.04 percent or 195.3 points at 18,552.61. The Nikkei share average is trading at its lowest since December last year.

"Apart from the geopolitical side ... , I think we also have to realize Abe's party is facing a tough election for Tokyo coming up. We also have the markets for greater China off on Friday, so with the data coming out, I think you're seeing a situation here of people taking risk off the table and ensuring they've got some protection," Parry International Trading Managing Director Gavin Parry, told CNBC.

In mainland Chinese markets, the closed down 0.46 percent or 15.1 points at 3,273.83 and the Shenzhen Composite fell 0.76 percent or 15.4 points to close at 2,007. Hong Kong's recovered from earlier losses, to trade up 0.25 percent by mid-afternoon.

China earlier reported that annual consumer prices rose 0.9 percent in March, a tick below the 1.0 percent gain seen. Singapore reports February retail sales figures later in the day.

Down Under, the ASX 200 finished up 0.08 percent or 4.7 points at 5,934.Shares in Australia's Telstra fell more than 7 percent on Wednesday after TPG Telecom secured licenses in the government's latest auction of mobile spectrum and the company unveiled plans to build its own mobile network.

South Korea's Kospi ended up 0.24 percent or 5 points at 2,128.91.

In corporate news, troubled Japanese conglomerate Toshiba filed results on Tuesday without a sign-off from its auditors, after twice-delaying the release in previous months. Toshiba also warned that future survival of the company was in doubt. The company's shares were down 1.03 percent.

On the energy front, oil prices were marginally higher after Saudi Arabia informed OPEC officials that it intends to continue output cuts for six more months, according to reports. Brent crude rose 0.34 percent to trade at $56.42 a barrel while U.S. crude rose 0.36 percent to trade at $53.59.

The rise in oil prices also comes after the American Petroleum Institute estimated on Tuesday that crude inventories had fallen by 1.3 million barrels in the week ending April 7, compared to the 87,000 barrel increase expected by analysts.

Official data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday will be closely watched for confirmation, or divergence. Last week API reported a draw in crude stocks, while EIA reported a build.

Stateside, equities closed lower as investors continued to focus on geopolitical tensions in the Korean peninsula. The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 0.03 percent or 6.72 points to close at 20,651.3, the was lower by 0.14 percent or 3.38 points to finish at 2,353.78 and the Nasdaq declined 0.24 percent or 14.15 points to finish at 5,866.77.