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Asian shares close mixed as political turmoil weighs on the dollar

  • The rally in the dollar was stopped in its tracks following President Donald Trump's decision to disband two advisory councils
  • Minutes for the Federal Open Market Committee's last meeting reflected a divide among Fed members
  • Shares of Australia's Telstra fell as much as 12 percent after the company said it was reducing dividends

Asian markets closed mixed on Thursday after a rally in the dollar was halted on political turbulence stateside while investors digested the Wednesday release of the Federal Reserve's minutes.

Japan's Nikkei 225 edged down 0.14 percent, or 26.65 points, to close at 19,702.63, with autos and financial stocks ending the session lower. Across the Korean strait, the Kospi advanced 0.57 percent, or 13.41 points, to end at 2,361.67, as steel stocks rose on optimism about third-quarter earnings. Posco finished up 4.71 percent and Hyundai Steel gained 2.81 percent.

Australia's benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index slid 0.10 percent, or 5.902 points, to close at 5,779.200, as gains in the materials and health care sub-indexes were balanced by losses in the telecommunication services sub-index. Shares of Telstra contributed to the steep losses in the telco space: The company closed down 10.62 percent after it said it would reduce dividends.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index slipped 0.30 percent by 3:09 p.m. HK/SIN as earnings reporting season continued. Mainland markets closed higher: The Shanghai Composite rose 0.68 percent, or 22.1670 points, to end at 3,268.6182 and the Shenzhen Composite added 0.579 percent, or 10.9981 points, to close at 1,909.3846.

Indonesia markets were closed for a public holiday.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
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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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In the U.S., President Donald Trump unexpectedly said on Wednesday he was disbanding two advisory councils comprising prominent business executives.

The move came after several members of Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum and Manufacturing Jobs Initiative councils stepped down following the president's Tuesday press conference in which the president blamed "both sides" for violence at a white nationalist rally in Virginia.

The dollar took a breather after falling overnight against a basket of rival currencies following the latest political developments, with the dollar index standing at 93.524 at 3:12 p.m. HK/SIN compared to the 93.457 seen in the last session.

Minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's July meeting released on Wednesday also supported the move lower in the greenback. While some Fed members said they were worried over the tightening labor market, others voiced their concern over low inflation rates in the U.S. The minutes also showed the central bank was prepared to trim its massive balance sheet, although the announcement of a start date was left for an "upcoming meeting."

"One expects the timetable will be highly conditional, with a multitude of escape clauses, as the Fed monitors the market response clearly," ANZ Research said in a Thursday note.

Investors in Asia could rest easy on the interpretation that rates — if the Fed did decide to hike this year — would rise very gradually, but markets weren't completely in the clear, cautioned one market watcher.

"The Fed is not the only game in town, and global financial markets could yet be roiled this year, not by the Fed but by the European Central Bank — if it fails to get itself onto a normalization path without triggering a market tantrum," said ING Asia Head of Research Rob Carnell in a note.

In corporate news, airline Cathay Pacific announced a first-half loss of HK$2.05 billion ($262.07 million). The company attributed its poor performance in the first half of the year to increased competition and higher fuel prices. Cathay Pacific also added in its release that it didn't expect the operating environment to "improve materially" in the second half of the year. Shares of the company rose 1.71 percent by 3:20 p.m. HK/SIN.

Citi analysts maintained their "sell" call on Cathay Pacific shares in a note, adding that higher costs and competition were factors they expected to weigh on the airline's earnings. The analysts reduced their price target on the stock to HK$9.63 from HK$10.

Meanwhile, telecommunications operator China Unicom will raise almost $12 billion from investors such as Alibaba and Baidu as part of a push for mixed ownership reform. The company said in a filing to the Hong Kong Exchange that trade in shares of its Hong Kong-listed unit would remain halted despite stating in an earlier release that trade would resume Thursday.

Shares of Tencent gained 2.60 percent by 3:20 p.m. HK/SIN after the company reported second-quarter profit grew 70 percent to 18.23 billion yuan ($2.72 billion). Tencent is the company behind popular mobile game "Honour of Kings."

While the company's second-quarter results beat forecasts, Nomura analysts noted that margin pressures remained for Tencent. Still, the analysts maintained their "buy" call on the stock in an August 17 note and raised their target price on Tencent to HK$380 from HK$341.

In currencies, the greenback was softer against the Japanese currency, slipping below the 110 handle on the back of Japanese exports increasing for the eighth month in a row, according to Reuters.

Japanese exports rose 13.4 percent in July compared to a year ago, in line with the 13.6 percent increase forecast and above the 9.7 percent rise seen in June, Reuters reported. The dollar fetched 109.97 yen at 3:13 a.m. HK/SIN compared to an overnight high of 110.23 yen.

On the energy front, oil prices edged up after falling more than 1 percent overnight on concerns that U.S. production was increasing. Brent crude futures rose 0.24 percent to trade at $50.39 a barrel and U.S. crude futures tacked on 0.11 percent to trade at $46.83.

Equities on Wall Street closed slightly higher on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average rising 0.12 percent, or 25.88 points, to close at 22,024.87.