Asia Markets

North Korea tensions back in the spotlight as Asian shares digest China inflation data

Key Points
  • Geopolitical tensions ramped up as President Donald Trump warned of "fire and fury" if North Korea continued to make threats against the U.S.
  • Commonwealth Bank of Australia full-year profit beat expectations
  • China July CPI rose 1.4 percent, missing expectations, while July PPI was in line with forecasts

Most Asian indexes closed lower on Wednesday as geopolitical tensions re-entered the spotlight and China consumer inflation missed expectations.

Japan's fell 1.29 percent, or 257.3 points, to close at 19,738.71, and South Korea's Kospi declined 1.1 percent, or 26.34 points, to finish the session at 2,368.39.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index climbed 0.38 percent, or 21.946 points, to close at 5,765.7, driven by gains in its heavily-weighted financials sub-index, which rose 0.73 percent.

Hong Kong's was off 0.25 percent by 3:02 p.m. HK/SIN. Mainland markets closed mixed: the slipped 0.19 percent, or 6.2998 points, to end at 3,275.5730, while the Shenzhen Composite reversed earlier losses to climb 0.34 percent, or 6.3887 points, finishing the session at 1,885.5534.

The Singapore market was closed for the National Day public holiday.

Geopolitical tensions ramped up after President Donald Trump warned North Korea it would be "met with fire and fury" if it continued to make threats against the U.S. His comments came on the back of a report from the Washington Post that the hermit state had created a miniaturized nuclear weapon that could fit in its missiles.

Just hours after Trump's warning, North Korea reportedly said it was "carefully examining" a plan to strike the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with missiles.

Demand for safe haven assets picked up following the statement from North Korea. The yen firmed against the dollar, with the currency trading as low as 109.71 yen to the dollar earlier in the session. The greenback had fetched as much as 110.37 yen overnight. Dollar/yen stood at 109.91 yen at 2:37 p.m. HK/SIN.

Gold prices were also higher. Spot gold last traded at $1,265.20 an ounce, compared with levels around $1,261 an ounce in the previous session. The yellow metal had earlier declined when the dollar firmed overnight.

While North Korea has launched several missile tests throughout the year, markets have largely bounced back. However, some market watchers noted that geopolitical risk this time around was elevated.

"This is the kind of risk that's very difficult for the market to wrap its mind around," Silvercrest Asset Management Managing Director Patrick Chovanec told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Fire and fury: 'It's jarring to hear'

Meanwhile, investors digested the release of China inflation data for the month of July. The world's second-largest economy announced its consumer price index rose 1.4 percent on year, just shy of the 1.5 percent figure forecast in a Reuters poll. The producer price index rose 5.5 percent, compared with the previous year, in line with analyst expectations.

The Australian currency firmed after sliding ahead of the release of China inflation numbers. The Aussie dollar dipped to trade at $0.7860 immediately after the release, compared with levels around $0.787 before the data. The Aussie dollar — which sometimes acts as a China proxy due to the two countries' trade links — stood at $0.7879 at 2:36 p.m. HK/SIN, but remained firmly below an overnight high of $0.7916.

On the earnings front, Commonwealth Bank of Australia announced Wednesday its full-year profit rose 4.6 percent to A$9.88 billion ($7.82 billion). The bank currently faces allegations it breached money laundering rules Down Under. CBA scrapped the bonus of its chief executive following the allegations. Shares of the bank closed up 0.57 percent.

Other corporate news of note included the announcement of a joint venture between Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and Yahoo Japan. The joint venture aims to process customer data at the Japanese bank to improve services, Nikkei Asian Review reported. SMFG shares finished down 1.27 percent and Yahoo Japan shed 0.2 percent.

Toshiba stock closed up 3.2 percent after soaring more than 6 percent in early trade. That followed news the company's auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers Aarata is expected to sign off on its annual results, Reuters reported. However, PwC is also likely to provide a negative view of Toshiba's internal controls, Reuters said.

Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing also reported that half-year net profit increased 17 percent, compared with one year ago Wednesday. Shares of the exchange operator were down 0.87 percent at 2:44 p.m. HK/SIN.

Commonwealth Bank’s regulatory issues will weigh on future earnings

Other market movers in Asia included Hong Kong's Esprit Holdings. The retailer said full-year profit for the year that ended on June 30 was expected to come in at a range between HK$50 million ($6.39 million) to HK$80 million ($10.23 million), compared with the HK$21 million ($1.53 million) seen last year. Esprit stock rose 5.56 percent by 2:45 p.m. HK/SIN.

A halt in the trade of Hong Kong-listed Wanda Hotel Development was issued Wednesday morning. In a filing to the Hong Kong Exchange, Wanda Hotel said the action was taken pending an announcement concerning a letter of intent about "possible asset restructuring." The company's stock had soared 16 percent in the Tuesday session after it clarified it did not have plans to dispose of several projects in Australia.

Oil edged down following headlines overnight that OPEC exports had increased due to higher production from Nigeria and Libya, Reuters said. Brent crude slipped 0.46 percent to trade at $51.90 a barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude slid 0.39 percent to trade at $48.98.

The dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of rival currencies, stood at 93.567 at 2:36 p.m. HK/SIN, off an overnight high of 93.876, but still above the 93.3 seen for most of the Tuesday session.

U.S. job openings rose by a record 6.2 million in June, exceeding hiring, according to Reuters. Market watchers took note of the data as strength in the labor market is likely to result in higher wage pressures and influence the Federal Reserve's monetary policy.

"The data keeps the Fed on track for another rate hike later this year, but with wage pressures not yet showing in higher average hourly earning, the market remains skeptical," National Australia Bank currency strategist Rodrigo Catril said in a note.

Equities stateside closed lower Tuesday following Trump's comments on North Korea.

—Reuters contributed to this report.