Asia Markets

Asia markets close higher on a strong US finish, markets focused on France

Key Points
  • Suspected terrorist attack in Paris ahead of polls
  • Asian markets note Mnuchin comments on tax cut plans
A passerby walks in front of a stock indicator at the window of a security company in Tokyo on March 31, 2017.
Toshifumi Kitamura | AFP | Getty Images

Asia markets were mostly higher on Friday after a strong session in the U.S. amid caution following a suspected terrorist shooting in Paris ahead of the first round of the presidential election at the weekend.

One policeman was killed and two were injured after a gunman opened fire in central Paris on Thursday night.

The shooting took place just before voters head to the polls in a tightly contested presidential race, with centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen leading the pack ahead of the first round of voting with none of the candidates expected to command the 50 percent needed to win outright, leading to a second round runoff on May 7.

Either way, the result of the election is unlikely to result in France leaving the European Union, Mizuho Bank Senior Economist Vishnu Varathan said in a Friday morning note.

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"A Le Pen victory this round is quite far removed from 'Frexit' risks ... (E)ven if Le Pen makes president, establishing supporters among lawmakers to even get a 'Frexit' referendum off the ground is a long way off. Simply put, 'Frexit' is not an imminent risk in any case."

Euro/dollar eased to trade at $1.0724, higher than the $1.06 levels seen earlier this week. It had earlier climbed to a one-month high of $1.0777.

One analyst, however, said that investors should not associate resilience in the currency with changing sentiment.

"With political uncertainty still a recurrent theme in Europe, the incredible rebound that the euro has staged may be utilized by longer-term bears to send prices lower," FXTM Research Analyst Lukman Otunuga said in a note.

Investors were also focused on fresh comments from U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that tax reform plans could be unveiled soon.

Markets in Asia were relatively unfazed by the headlines in Europe. Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index surged 1.03 percent or 190.26 points to close at 18,620.75 and the Kospi closed 0.74 percent or 15.89 points higher at 2,165.04.

Australia's ASX 200 made gains of 0.56 percent or 32.711 points to close at 5,854.1, driven by its materials and utilities sub-indexes which were up 1.78 percent and 2.02 percent respectively.

The mood in greater China was mixed, with the marginally higher by 0.09 percent. The was higher by 0.03 percent or 1.0509 points to close at 3,173.1512 while the Shenzhen Composite was off 0.443 percent or 8.5514 points to close at 1,920.225.

"Political risk is very much at the forefront but ... financial markets continue to shrug it off. The volatility levels are so low, even if they expected higher volatility given a lot of these geopolitical risks," Taurus Wealth Advisors' Executive Director Michael Preiss told CNBC.

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"On the economic front, the good news is that certain economies are improving. The unfortunate or ironic thing is that this actually might not be good for stock markets as much as people want to believe," he warned.

In corporate news, Western Digital is mulling a joint bid with Japanese government-backed players for Toshiba's semiconductor business, Reuters said. Shares of the Japanese conglomerate were down 5.73 percent to close at 207.3 yen a stock.

Still in the tech space, shares of Samsung Electronics were higher by 1.19 percent ahead of the release of its new Galaxy S8 smartphone Friday to close at 2,038,000 won a stock. The company said last week that pre-orders for the Galaxy S8 had surpassed those for the S7.

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Over in Australia, shares of Coca Cola Amatil plunged 10.52 percent to close at A$9.61 a stock after the company downgraded earnings forecasts due to weaker trade in Australian beverages.

The dollar traded at 99.813 against a basket of rivals, higher than levels around 99.6 seen in the previous session. The greenback made a second consecutive session of gains against the yen, trading at 109.33 compared to the 108 handle in the last session. Cable held mostly steady, with the trading at 1.2811 at 2:15 pm HK/SIN.

Oil prices were cautiously higher as markets grappled with higher U.S. shale production and comments that OPEC output cuts were likely to be extended. U.S. crude was up by 0.24 percent at $50.83 a barrel. Brent crude was gained 0.23 percent to trade at $53.11.

U.S. equities closed higher on Mnuchin's tax reform comments, with the Dow Jones industrial average bouncing 0.85 percent or 174.22 points to close at 20,578.71 and the rising 0.76 percent or 17.67 points to close at 2,355.84.

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