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Asia markets close mostly lower as investors await Yellen testimony, digest Trump Jr. emails

  • Central banks were in the spotlight, as markets digested comments from Federal Reserve and Bank of England officials on Tuesday
  • Following the release of a series of emails by the eldest son of President Donald Trump, the euro hit its highest levels against the dollar since May 2016; dollar/yen was softer
  • Ahead, Fed Chair Janet Yellen's testimony before congress during U.S. time was expected

Asian equities closed mostly lower on Wednesday as markets awaited Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's testimony before congress in the U.S.

Japan's Nikkei 225 slid 0.48 percent, or 97.1 points, to close at 20,098.38 and South Korea's benchmark Kospi edged down 0.0.18 percent, or 4.23 points, to end at 2,391.77.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 declined 0.96 percent, or 55.126 points, to finish at 5,673.8, driven lower by weakness in the financials and health care sub-indexes.

Greater China markets were mixed, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gaining 0.66 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN, but mainland markets edging lower. The Shanghai Composite closed lower by 0.16 percent, or 5.0122 points, at 3,198.0253 and the Shenzhen Composite shed 0.114 percent, or 2.1493 points, to close at 1,889.4472.

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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Trump Jr. released a chain of emails on Tuesday so that he could be "totally transparent" about events that transpired during a meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June last year. Veselnitskaya had said she had information that could prove "helpful" to the Trump presidential campaign.

On Wall Street, stocks closed mixed after dipping on the release of Trump Jr.'s emails.

Reaction to the email appeared to have had a more lasting effect on U.S. Treasury yields and the dollar than the stock market, National Australia Bank currency strategist Rodrigo Catril said in a note.

The dollar index, which tracks the dollar against a basket of currencies, edged up to trade at 95.720 at 2:58 p.m. HK/SIN after initially falling on the news. Meanwhile, the dollar was softer against the yen after hitting a four-month high in the previous session, with the greenback last fetching 113.49 yen.

Pressure on the dollar also saw the euro/dollar hit its highest level since May 2016. The common currency traded at $1.1456 at 3:03 p.m. HK/SIN compared to a high of $1.1489 seen earlier in the session.

"Russia-gate makes for good headlines, but the market [is] focused on the immediate monetary policy tasks at hand. While Yellen will count, the real driver for near-term dollar sentiment will be this week's U.S. CPI," OANDA senior trader Stephen Innes told CNBC, adding that political tail risk remained concerning.

Central bank speak was also in the spotlight after Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said on Tuesday that the Fed was likely to move "soon" to unwind its massive portfolio. However, her comments on future interest rate hikes were perceived as dovish by markets.

Ahead, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's testimony before congress on July 12 U.S. time was also expected to be closely watched by investors.

Topics likely to crop up in the testimony included the timing of the Fed's balance sheet unwind, its next interest rate hike, whether the central bank will allow the labor market to run hot and matters relating to Yellen's successor, ING head of research Rob Carnell said in a Wednesday morning note.

While investors were unlikely to be "much wiser" on topics post-testimony, there was a sense that the Fed could "get on with" the unwind of its balance sheet, Carnell added.

Meanwhile, a speech from Bank of England Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent that skirted the issue of future rate hikes resulted in the British pound sinking against the euro.

Against the euro, the pound extended losses to trade at $1.1190 at 3:04 p.m. HK/SIN, after fetching as little as $1.1196 overnight. Pound/euro had traded around the $1.13 handle earlier in the week.

In other currency news, the Australian dollar inched higher following a positive read on the Westpac consumer confidence index for July. The Aussie dollar gave up some gains to trade at $0.7645 compared to levels around $0.7664 seen earlier in the session.

In energy news, Brent crude futures rose 1.43 percent to trade at $48.20 a barrel and U.S. crude futures gained 1.71 percent to trade at $45.81.

Over in Japan, Toshiba shares closed up 1.12 percent following news the company was in talks with Western Digital after negotiations with a preferred bidder stalled, Reuters said. Western Digital had won a temporary court order on Tuesday that allowed it to access shared databases due to its joint venture with Toshiba, Reuters added.

In economic news, Japan's June corporate goods price index increased 2.1 percent on year, aligning with analyst expectations, Reuters said. The index tracks the prices corporates charged each other for goods and services.

Investors also anticipated the Bank of Canada's interest rate decision due during U.S. hours.