Asian markets close mixed with Comey's FBI dismissal, new South Korean president in focus

  • Asian markets traded sideways following Moon Jae-in's victory in South Korean election and dismissal of FBI Director James Comey
  • Australian banks fell more than 1 percent in early trade after bank levy announced in Australian budget
  • Oil prices rise after falling 1.2 percent in previous session

Equities in Asia closed mixed on Wednesday as investors digest the dramatic dismissal of FBI Director James Comey in the U.S. and follow the inauguration of liberal candidate Moon Jae-in after his win in the South Korean presidential election.

Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

Official results reflected that Moon, a candidate from the Democratic Party of Korea, had won 41.1 percent of the vote, according to Reuters. Moon will take on the presidency after the ouster of former South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

Political developments in the U.S. are also likely to weigh as FBI Director James Comey was fired by U.S. President Donald Trump unexpectedly.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed 0.29 percent or 57.09 points higher at 19,900.09 while the Kospi fell 0.99 percent to close at 2,270.12 following Moon's election victory.

"The actual Korean market is really being driven by Samsung today so I wouldn't read too much into that in terms of the general sentiment," Crestone Wealth Management CIO David Sokulsky told CNBC, adding that the election result was a positive development for Korean markets.

The ASX 200 reversed earlier losses to gain 0.61 percent or 35.497 points to close at 5,875.4 as investors digested the release of the federal budget yesterday after the market close.

Markets in greater China were mixed, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index up 0.6 percent. The Shanghai Composite was closed 0.93 percent or 28.7761 points down at 3,051.7508, while the Shenzhen Composite was dropped 1.358 percent to close at 1,822.5571.

Markets in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia were closed for the Vesak Day public holiday.

ASX 200
CNBC 100

In currency news, the dollar weakened against a basket of rivals after three consecutive sessions of gains to trade at 99.421. The move lower came after Trump's surprise dismissal of FBI Director Comey. The dollar also softened against the yen, trading at 113.85 at 2:20 pm HK/SIN. Dollar/yen breached the 114 level earlier in the session.

The Aussie dollar strengthened slightly against the dollar to trade at $0.7358, but still off levels around $0.74 seen last week.

"With iron ore, (Australia's) chief export, having shed an astonishing 47.3 percent over 36 sessions then the Australian dollar has done well to remain above $0.73 until now," ThinkMarkets Senior Market Analyst Matt Simpson said in a note.

With the Federal Reserve likely to raise interest rates in June, the Aussie could break below $0.70 if traders realize a third rate hike is on the cards, Simpson told CNBC.

The Australian government forecast an A$7.4 billion ($5.4 billion) surplus for fiscal year 2020/21 and announced it would be raising taxes on banks in its bid to "re-set" the Australian budget yesterday.

Shares of major Australian banks closed mixed after falling more than 1 percent in early trade following the news of the bank levy. Westpac was down 0.7 percent at A$32.65 a stock, Commonwealth Bank was 0.35 percent lower at A$81.73 and National Australia Bank fell 0.68 percent to trade at A$32.20.

Over in Japan, Toyota estimated that its operating profits this year would decline by 20 percent. Shares of the automaker closed 0.88 percent lower to trade at 6,081 yen ($53.40) before the forecast was announced.

Softbank also reported annual earnings rose 13 percent on year after the close. Shares of the telecommunications company closed up 1.43 percent at 8,700 yen ($76.40).

Meanwhile, oil prices edged up after falling 1.2 percent in the previous session. Brent futures added 0.37 percent to trade at $48.91 a barrel and U.S. crude was 0.52 percent higher at $46.12.

In economic news, China CPI data for the month of April rose 1.2 percent on year. This was higher than the 1.1 percent projected by analysts, Reuters reported. PPI gained 6.4 percent compared to the 6.9 percent forecast.

Stateside, equities were lower on the back of comments from North Korea indicating the country would continue with its nuclear tests.

— CNBC's Christine Wang contributed to this report.