Asia markets close higher as BOJ cuts inflation outlook; ECB awaited

  • The Bank of Japan kept policy steady, but cut its inflation outlook for fiscal years 2017/2018 and 2018/2019; the yen weakened on the news
  • Markets awaited news out of the European Central Bank
  • Shares of several Hong Kong-listed property stocks tied to a deal with Dalian Wanda jumped after the company announced it was bringing on a second buyer

Asian indexes closed higher on Thursday as investors digested news out of the Bank of Japan and awaited a decision from the European Central Bank.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 0.62 percent, or 123.73 points, to close at 20,144.59 and South Korea's Kospi edged up by 0.49 percent, or 11.9 points, to end at 2,441.84.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.51 percent, or 29.374 points, to close at 5,761.5, driven by the 1.25 percent gain in the heavily-weighted financials sub-index, but it was partially offset by declines in the consumer discretionary sub-index.

Mainland Chinese markets recorded moderate gains, with the Shanghai Composite advancing 0.44 percent, or 14.3577 points, to close at 3,245.3339 and the Shenzhen Composite trading higher by 0.485 percent, or 8.9171 points, to finish at 1,847.9740.

The Hang Seng Index firmed to gain 0.34 percent by 3:16 p.m. HK/SIN after dipping below the flat line earlier in the session.

Positive sentiment was apparent across broader Asia, with the MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index rising 0.67 percent to trade close to its highest levels in ten years.

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While the ECB is widely expected to stay put on interest rates, markets awaited signs from the central bank about whether it would announce changes to its bond-buying plan in September.

The euro was taken on a wild ride in June after comments from ECB President Mario Draghi were perceived as hawkish. The currency, which rose to a seven-month high on the back of those comments, later fell on talk that markets had misinterpreted the ECB chief's intentions.

The common currency traded at $1.1518 at 3:16 p.m. HK/SIN after hitting a more than one-year high against the dollar earlier in the week.

Given that the ECB has maintained its stance to keep policy accommodative, the central bank's rhetoric may only be adjusted slightly to emphasize that tweaks to its easing bias will depend on economic improvement broadening, Mizuho Bank FX strategist Chang Wei Liang said in a note.

"The press conference may be where the action may be, with Draghi likely to rein in the hawks — and policy convergence trades — even as the doves concede ground," he added.

Over in Japan, the BOJ kept monetary policy steady on Thursday as a two-day meeting concluded. The central bank also cut its inflation forecasts for fiscal years 2017/2018 and 2018/2019.

The dollar extended gains against the yen on the news. Against the yen, the dollar last traded at 112.11 after trading as low as 111.75 earlier in the session.

This also followed the release of better-than-expected Japan trade data for the month of June earlier in the session. Japan exports in the month of June rose 9.7 percent on year compared to the 9.5 percent forecast, Reuters said. Imports rose 15.5 percent compared to the 14.6 percent projected.

Meanwhile, Australian jobs data for the month of June reflected that employment rose by 14,000 compared to the 15,000 expected, Reuters reported. The June participation rate stood at 65 percent, a tad higher than the 64.9 percent forecast in a Reuters poll.

The Australian dollar rose to a fresh two-year high on the back of the news although it later pared back those gains. The Aussie dollar touched as high as $0.7989 following the news compared to the $0.7949 seen at the end of the last session. The Aussie dollar traded at $0.7923 by 3:17 p.m. HK/SIN.

In individual stocks, shares of Bellamy's Australia fell 12 percent following the suspension of the import license of the company's infant formula in China, Reuters said. Bellamy's shares closed the session off their session lows and down just 5.04 percent. Shares of the company had just resumed trade Thursday after being suspended for almost two weeks.

Property developer Sunac surged 15.12 percent by 3:19 p.m. HK/SIN following news that Dalian Wanda had brought on a second buyer, R&F Properties, in its sale of $9.3 billion worth of assets. Sunac and Wanda had originally been the only two parties involved in the deal. Wanda Hotel Development rose 7.79 percent and R&F Properties shares were up 7.43 percent.

While investors were upbeat over the news, excitement over the updated deal might be overdone, Haitong International Securities director of investment strategy Kevin Leung told CNBC.

"Regulators are watching recently, so (the deal) might not be entirely straightforward," Leung said. In addition, Sunac's share price was "way past fundamentals," Leung added.

Still, moves in shares of the three companies appeared "normal" as share prices of non state-owned developers have been "running all over the place" this year, Leung said.

Shares of Singapore telco M1 were down 2.33 percent after falling almost 9 percent in the previous session.

DBS Group Research analyst Sachin Mittal downgraded the company's shares to "fully valued" from "buy" in a July 19 note. Mittal attributed the downgrade to higher-than-expected operating costs and the decision taken by M1's major shareholders to drop plans to review their stakes in the telco.

The dollar index, which tracks the dollar against a basket of rival currencies, edged up to trade at 94.846 at 3:20 p.m. HK/SIN. The dollar hit a 10-month low of 94.476 earlier in the week.

On the commodities front, oil prices were steady. Brent crude futures slid 0.3 percent to trade at $49.55 a barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was off 0.25 percent at $47.00 a barrel.

Oil prices rose more than 2 percent overnight after a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that U.S. crude stocks had fallen more than expected.

Stateside, stocks closed at record levels as investors parsed through earnings reports. Of the 53 S&P 500 components that had reported as of Tuesday, 77 percent beat earnings expectations while 75 percent topped on revenues, data from The Earnings Scout showed.

On the central bank front, the ECB is expected to announce its decision at 7:45 p.m. HK/SIN.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.