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Asia markets waver amid earnings disappointments and as political risk dents Wall Street

  • Asia markets wavered, after U.S. stocks were dented by a report that the Russia investigation was intensifying
  • The Wall Street Journal reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington
  • The Australian dollar spiked lower after the Reserve Bank of Australia released its quarterly statement on monetary policy
  • Major Australian banks were hit after Commonwealth Bank was accused of breaching money laundering laws
Andrew Watson | Getty Images

Asian markets wavered on Friday, after U.S. stocks were dented overnight by a report that the special counsel investigation into Trump and his campaign was intensifying.

Australia's ASX 200 ended down 0.25 percent, or 14.523 points, at 5720.60, weighed by the heavily-weighted financial subindex dropping 1.07 percent.

Commonwealth Bank shares dropped 3.87 percent.

The Australian government's financial intelligence and regulatory agency on Thursday alleged the bank breached money laundering laws by allowing its Intelligent Deposit Machines to accept thousands of large cash deposits without monitoring user identities, even when deposits exceeded 10,000 Australian dollars, the threshold for reporting the transaction to regulators.

The complaint said there may have been more than 50,000 breaches of the money-laundering regulations.

In a statement, CBA, Australia's largest bank, said it was reviewing the claim and would file a statement of defense.

Brian Johnson, an Australia banking analyst at CLSA, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Friday that he was negative on CBA's stock, adding the news may spur further scrutiny of the entire sector.

"CommBank trades at a significant premium to the other banks because its so profitable. And the way you make excess profit is obviously to do things slightly differently to the other banks. Perhaps this is part of that kind of ethos in the organization," he said.

Among other major banking stocks, ANZ fell 0.30 percent, Westpac was off by 0.54 percent and the National Australia Bank edged up 0.20 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 ended down 0.38 percent, or 76.93 points, at 19,952.33, while the Topix index shed 0.15 percent, or 2.37 points, to 1631.45. Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi ended up 0.36 percent, or 8.60 points, at 2395.45 after wavering between positive and negative during the session.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index nudged up 0.04 percent by 3:27 p.m. HK/SIN. On the mainland, the Shanghai Composite lost 0.35 percent, or 11.61 points, to 3261.32, and the Shenzhen Composite shed 0.57 percent, or 10.72 points, to close at 1858.49.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia, has impaneled a grand jury in Washington, which, the newspaper reported, means the probe is intensifying and could stretch "for months."

Analysts said that while the news was not particularly a "great surprise," its emergence saw both the dollar and Treasury yields fall back a touch ahead of the U.S. market close.

"While a grand jury is perhaps expected given the serious allegations, and it doesn't necessarily mean that criminal charges will be filed, it does make investors wonder where the investigation could go and deepen fears of political chaos," Mizuho said in a note on Friday.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, traded at 92.752 at 3:29 p.m. HK/SIN — declining from levels above 93.200 earlier in the week.

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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Amid the risk aversion, the safe-haven Japanese yen strengthened against the dollar, with the pair trading as low as 109.82, compared with levels above 111.0 reached in the previous week. At 3:30 p.m. HK/SIN, the pair was at 110.07.

Meanwhile, the Australian dollar dropped as low as $0.7930 from about $0.7955 after the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) statement on monetary policy. But the Aussie dollar quickly bounced back, trading at $0.7976 at 3:30 p.m. HK/SIN.

The statement indicated that, while the central bank had turned more confident on economic growth ahead, it didn't expect unemployment or wage growth to improve much, according to a Reuters report.

The RBA also jawboned on the recent strength of the Aussie dollar, warning it could dampen growth and inflation, the report said.

Paul Dales, chief Australia and New Zealand economist at Capital Economics, said in a note on Friday that the statement implied the RBA may be able to hike interest rates a little earlier than it had expected.

But, he added, "we doubt GDP growth or inflation will live up to the bank's expectations, meaning that rates may stay at 1.5 percent for another two years yet."

Earlier in the week, the RBA kept its cash rate unchanged at 1.50 percent, and Governor Philip Lowe said the central bank's forecasts for the Australian economy are "largely unchanged."

The British pound traded at $1.3147 at 3:31 p.m. HK/SIN after the Bank of England held interest rates steady at 0.25 percent on Thursday, in line with expectations. That was down from as high as $1.3264 shortly before the decision was announced.

Citi said in a note on Thursday that the prospects of an interest rate hike before 2019 appeared fairly dim as the BOE cut growth forecasts "materially," with the 2017 forecast down 0.2 percentage point to 1.7 percent.

"The economy is showing signs of Brexit-related weakness. Businesses are not exploiting the competitive advantage of weak sterling and are not investing into larger capacities," Citi said.

In Japan, Suzuki shares jumped 8.70 percent to close at 5,636 yen. Nomura said the company's fiscal first-quarter earnings were a "positive surprise" for the second straight quarter, with operating profit up 44 percent on-year at 85.1 billion yen, compared with a consensus forecast for 69.0 billion yen.

Nomura raised its target price to 6,400 yen from 5,600 yen and kept a "buy" call, noting the automaker was well ahead of rivals in the Indian market and that margins had improved sharply in Europe, Southeast Asia and Japan.

Among other Japanese automakers, Mazda shares climbed 2.80 percent and Toyota shares slipped 0.14 percent. Toyota Motor and Mazda were expected to announce plans for a tie-up to build a $1.6 billion assembly plant in the U.S.

In Australia, shares of Sims Metal tumbled 12.47 percent after the company said its fiscal full-year underlying earnings before interest and tax would come in between A$180 million and A$185 million and that its CEO and CFO would both be stepping down.

Citi said in a note on Thursday that the earnings guidance was in line with its forecast for A$184 million, but that the top management departures were "surprising and unexplained," adding that it was "of concern to us." It noted that no conference call was scheduled to explain the move.

Shares of developer Lendlease closed up 1.09 percent. The developer said in an ASX announcement that it had inadvertently published its unaudited full-year results, which weren't due until August 28.

The report said that the company's fiscal 2017 profit after tax rose around 8.7 percent on-year, with the dividend set to rise around 10 percent to 66 Australian cents.

In Singapore, shares of DBS dropped 2.31 percent by 3:34 p.m. HK/SIN. The city-state's largest bank said its second-quarter net profit rose 8.5 percent to 1.14 billion Singaporean dollars ($840 million) as strong loan growth offset a drop in its net interest margin, Reuters reported, noting that it was slightly below forecasts for S$1.15 billion.

"DBS is the only [Singapore] bank that has underperformed consensus expectations," Nomura said in a note on Friday.

Shares of Capitaland climbed 2.67 percent by 3:34 p.m. HK/SIN, bucking a 0.29 percent decline in the benchmark Straits Times Index. In a note on Friday, analysts at DBS said the Singapore-based property developer posted robust second-quarter earnings, which nearly doubled on-year, beating expectations, amid a boost from divestments and stable recurring income.

Hong Kong-listed developer Cheung Kong Property also climbed, rising 4.15 percent by 3:35 p.m. HK/SIN after its first-half core profit beat expectations.

Shares of Brilliance China climbed 9.13 percent to HK$20.80 by 3:35 p.m. HK/SIN.

UOB KayHian upgraded the stock to "buy" from "hold" and raised its target to HK$28.00 from HK$15.00, pointing to the potential for higher margins at its 50 percent-owned joint-venture BMW Brilliance and a stronger-than-expected response to the new 5-series.

On Wall Street on Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average dipped lower on the Mueller report before closing 9.86 points higher at 22,026.10, a fresh record closing high. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq composite fell to session lows on the report, but managed to cut some of those losses before the close. The S&P closed 0.22 percent lower at 2,472.16 and the Nasdaq finished the session 0.35 percent lower at 6,340.34.