Asia Markets

Indexes in Asia close higher as White House upheaval digested; Caixin PMI better-than-expected

Key Points
  • The dollar floundered after it was announced Anthony Scaramucci would be dismissed from his White House communications role
  • China Caixin manufacturing PMI topped expectations
  • Japan's Honda and Sony announced first-quarter results that beat analyst forecasts

Greater political uncertainty stateside weighed on the dollar as Asian markets digested stronger-than-expected China Caixin manufacturing PMI released Tuesday.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 0.3 percent, or 60.61 points, to close at 19,985.79.

South Korea's Kospi added 0.84 percent, or 20.25 points, to finish the session at 2,422.96. The index was driven by a bounce in manufacturing stocks. Market movers included Samsung Heavy rising 4.02 percent and Lotte Chemical gaining 3.12 percent.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.91 percent, or 51.809 points, to close at 5,772.4. The index was driven by broad-based gains across sectors, including strength in its energy and utilities sub-indexes, which rose 2.03 percent and 2.27 percent.

Hong Kong's advanced 0.69 percent by 3:32 p.m. HK/SIN.

Major indexes on the mainland closed higher after the release of private sector manufacturing PMI earlier in the session. The advanced 0.59 percent, or 19.2564 points, to close at 3,292.2847 and the Shenzhen Composite edged up 0.179 percent, or 3.3720 points, to end at 1,882.4679.

The Caixin manufacturing PMI on Tuesday showed that growth in the Chinese manufacturing sector accelerated in July, Reuters reported. The Caixin PMI rose to stand at 51.1 for the month of July, compared to the 50.4 figure seen in June. That was also above the 50.4 forecast by analysts in a Reuters survey.

Official PMI data released Monday came in below expectations. The official PMI for July stood at 51.4, lower than the 51.6 forecast by economists in a Reuters poll.

Independent economist Andy Xie told CNBC's "Squawk Box" that he didn't put much weight on the bounce in results of the private sector survey.

"Most private companies are still struggling ... This round of recovery was based on government sector spending last year and I don't think that's going to last with the crackdown on financial leverage," Xie said.

Making sense of Caixin PMI data

In other economic news, the Reserve Bank of Australia held the cash rate steady at 1.5 percent Tuesday, as was widely expected by markets. The central bank also warned in a statement that strength in the Australian dollar could "contribute to subdued price pressures in the economy."

The Aussie dollar edged down in response to the news to trade as low as $0.7988 compared to levels around $0.8020 seen before. The Australian currency last stood at $0.7996.

"This marks a further pick up in the RBA's attempts to jawbone the Australian dollar lower or at least stop its ascent that got underway with Deputy Governor Guy Debelle saying just over a week ago that a lower exchange rate '...would be helpful,'" AMP Capital Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist Shane Oliver said in a note following the announcement.

In the U.S., Anthony Scaramucci was fired by President Donald Trump just 10 days after he was tapped to be White House communications director. The dismissal, reportedly to give new Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate, came several days after Scaramucci's profanity-laden call to a New Yorker reporter.

The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of six rivals, stood at 92.942 at 3:13 p.m. HK/SIN, after trading as high as 93.535 earlier in the overnight session. The index had tumbled overnight to its lowest levels since May 2016.

The greenback also ceded ground against the yen, falling to its lowest levels in six weeks, Reuters data showed. The dollar last fetched 110.22 yen after falling as low as 109.98 earlier in the session.

Market movers included several Japanese corporates that reported first-quarter earnings after the market close on Monday. Shares of Japan Airlines closed up 2.77 percent after the airline on Monday revised upwards its full-year earnings forecast after the airline's first-quarter earnings rose 12 percent on year Monday.

Panasonic said first-quarter operating profits rose 16.9 percent, in line with expectations, while Mizuho Financial Group announced net profits fell nearly 11 percent due to low interest rates. Panasonic stock was off 2.2 percent and Mizuho declined 0.56 percent by the end of the session.

In other corporate news, authorities in India have raised concerns over Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group's proposed acquisition of Gland Pharma, Reuters reported. If the deal goes through, it would be China's largest takeover in India, the news agency added. The move also comes amid heightened scrutiny in China of foreign investments made by local corporates. Shares of Fosun Pharmaceutical traded in Hong Kong were down 1.57 percent and Shanghai-listed shares fell 0.99 percent.

On the earnings front, Japan's Honda reported after the market close that it topped expectations for its first-quarter earnings. Operating profits at the automaker stood at 269.2 billion yen ($2.44 billion), higher than an average forecast by analysts of 230.43 billion yen, Reuters said. The company revised upwards its full-year profit forecast, Reuters said. Honda shares had closed higher by 0.61 percent before the earnings announcement.

Meanwhile, Sony announced record quarterly earnings for its first-quarter after the close. Profits rose almost three-fold to stand at 157.61 billion ($1.43 billion), Reuters reported. Sony stock had closed down 1.78 percent before the results.

Oil prices extended overnight gains. Brent crude edged up 0.21 percent to trade at $52.83 a barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate rose 0.3 percent to trade above the $50 mark at $50.32 a barrel.

The commodity had hit two-month highs overnight on talk of the possibility of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela's oil sector after a controversial election on Sunday. The U.S. has only slapped sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro so far, Reuters reported.

In currencies, the euro soared to a two-and-a-half year high against the greenback overnight on solid euro zone inflation data. The common currency stood at $1.1816 at 3:16 p.m. HK/SIN after trading as high as $1.1845 earlier in the session.

"It's been a combination of continued momentum appetite for the euro, aided by somewhat better-than-expected data out of Europe, mixed data from the U.S., and over recent hours, more revolving doors at the White House," said National Australia Bank Director of Economics David de Garis in a Tuesday morning note.

Stateside, U.S. equities were mixed on optimism over a strong earnings season, even though major tech stocks pulled back.