Asia Markets

Asian markets muted; South Korean election, Australia budget in focus

Key Points
  • Stock markets in Asia mostly muted after soaring in previous session
  • Markets in South Korea are closed as voters head to the polls to vote for a new president
  • Oil prices reverse gains after initially trading higher on the back of renewed output cut hopes
  • Australian federal budget expected later in the day

Asian equities were subdued on Tuesday after soaring in the previous trading session with investors focused on key regional events unfolding in the day, including a presidential election in South Korea and the release of the Australian federal budget.

Jung Yeon-Je | AFP | Getty Images

South Koreans take to the polls today to choose a new leader after the ouster of former President Park Geun-hye on bribery charges. The front-runner in the election is Moon Jae-in from the liberal Democratic Party of Korea. Polls show that Moon has secured 38 percent of support from voters among a total of 13 candidates, according to Reuters.

"The election result is largely priced into the markets. The Korean markets are up about 4 percent this month. They are one of the best performing Asian markets ... so the market is expecting a change there," Principal Global Investors Managing Director Binay Chandgothia told CNBC.

"The next move in Korea will depend on how Samsung and the electronics cycle behave, and of course, how the policy making comes out from the new government."

Markets in the country are closed today.

Korean election results already priced in: Expert

Japan's Nikkei 225 closed 0.26 percent or 52.7 points lower at 19,843 after a subdued trading session. The index had surged more than 2 percent in the previous session.

Hong Kong's rose 1.03 percent. Markets on the mainland were also in the green after marking losses earlier in the session, with the gaining 0.06 percent or 1.914 points to close at 3,080.5269 and the Shenzhen Composite adding 0.657 percent or 12.0532 points to close at 1,847.6398.

In Hong Kong, the suspension in the trade of China Huishan Dairy Holding shares was extended by regulators. Shares of the troubled company plunged 85 percent in March this year.

The S&P/ASX 200, Australia's benchmark index, declined 0.53 percent or 30.993 points to close at 5,839.9. The move lower in the index was driven by the financials sub-index, which experienced a 2.4 percent drop.

Down Under, banks traded lower due to reports of a bank tax that could be included in the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 that will be released at 5:30 pm HK/SIN today. Commonwealth Bank fell 3.85 percent, ANZ was off by 2.64 percent and Westpac was down 3.52 percent.

"(T)he market is likely to be nervous about this prospect until they get details of what might be involved and what capacity of banks might have to pass this cost on to customers," CMC Markets Chief Market Analyst Ric Spooner said in a note.

Westpac to continue focusing on managing margins: CEO

Citibank analysts retained a "Sell" rating on Westpac, which reported solid half-year profits yesterday.

"(Westpac's) current profitability trends are the same as we have seen for ANZ and National Australia Bank. Despite this, Westpac trades on a sizable PE and PB premium to these banks, which we think will be hard to maintain," Citibank analysts Craig Williams, Brendan Sproules and Andrew P. Tam said in a note.

Over in Singapore, OCBC reported net profits for Q1 rose 14 percent on year. Shares of the bank were higher by 1.07 percent.

Meanwhile, shares of embattled Japanese conglomerate Toshiba closed 4.53 percent higher at 251.7 yen a stock. The move in share price came after the company rebutted Western Digital's claim that Toshiba had breached a joint contract in its attempt to sell its memory chip arm.

In currency news, the dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, was stronger for a third consecutive session. The dollar index traded at 99.148 at 2:08 pm HK/SIN. Against the yen, the dollar traded at 113.35, its highest level it almost two months.

The euro, which traded at a six-month high of $1.1023 early yesterday, was softer against the dollar at $1.0921.

What to do with the Aussie dollar

Meanwhile, the Aussie continued its slide against the dollar, off the $0.74 handle seen last week. The Aussie last traded at $0.7341.

"While the Japanese yen's underperformance can be largely attributed to the move higher in U.S. Treasury yields, the Australian dollar's underperformance is also due to another soft night for key Australian commodities," National Australia Bank Currency Strategist Rodrigo Catril said in a note, highlighting the fall in iron ore, steam coal and aluminium prices.

The greenback also bucked a three-day losing streak against the Korean won, with the dollar fetching 1,136.23 won.

'Cornerstone' of Australian budget will be housing and infrastructure

Oil prices initially rose on the back of renewed hopes that output cuts from OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers could potentially extend to 2018, but gave up gains as the session wore on. U.S. crude traded 0.13 percent lower at $46.37 per barrel while Brent crude was 0.08 percent down and trading at $49.30.

Overnight in the U.S., equities traded mostly flat while European stocks fell slightly in yesterday's session following Emmanuel Macron's win in the French presidential election on Sunday.