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Most Asian markets rise as dollar steadies and as investors digest Japan data

Key Points
  • Asian stocks close mostly higher
  • The dollar was nearly flat
  • Toshiba signed an agreement to sell its chip unit; the stock closed up 2.94 percent
  • Japan retail sales missed expectations; consumer prices rose for the eighth straight month

Asian shares finished the quarter on a largely positive note on Friday as the greenback nursed its wounds after slipping overnight. Markets also digested a raft of data out of Japan.

The Nikkei 225 shed 0.03 percent, or 6.83 points, to close at 20,356.28 as moderate losses in automakers and several heavyweight tech stocks weighed on the broader market.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi tacked on 0.9 percent to close at 2,394.47 as most manufacturing, retail and oil stocks posted gains. Automakers were also significantly higher: Hyundai Motor closed up 2.38 percent and Kia Motors rose 2.59 percent.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.2 percent, or 11.215 points, to close at 5,681.6.

Hong Kong's erased earlier losses to climb 0.35 percent by 3:03 p.m. HK/SIN. On the mainland, the rose 0.29 percent to close at 3,349.2164 and the Shenzhen Composite advanced 0.694 percent to end at 1,988.4916.

The MSCI Asia Pacific ex Japan index was 0.47 percent higher at 3:07 p.m. HK/SIN, posting a 4.76 percent rise for the quarter. Despite a strong quarterly performance, the profit-taking interest highlighted by OCBC Bank in a note on Friday did not materialize.

Several markets, including South Korea and China, will be shut next week for public holidays.

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

The dollar was flat after losing steam on Thursday. The dollar had surged on optimism following the release of the GOP's tax reform plans on Wednesday. The plan called for a lower corporate tax rate and would cut the highest individual income tax rate.

Criticism, however, arose over how the plan was skewed toward the wealthy, while questions remained over how the tax cuts would be funded.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of rivals, was edged up slightly after sliding overnight. The dollar index stood at 93.156 by 2:48 p.m. HK/SIN after climbing as high as 93.666 overnight.

The pullback in the U.S. currency overnight was likely due to profit taking and the "reality check setting in that the road to reform will be a long and winding trek — and an extremely bumpy one at that based on the current GOP squabbling, " said Stephen Innes, APAC head of trading at OANDA, in a note.

The U.S. currency, however, inched higher against the yen following the release of a raft of economic data early in the session. The greenback traded at 112.60 at 2:49 p.m. HK/SIN, up from levels around 112.4 earlier, but below the 113 touched during Asian trade on Thursday.

U.S. stocks closed higher as investors weighed recently announced tax reform plans. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.18 percent, or 40.49 points, to close at 22,381.20 and the small-cap Russell 2000 finished the session at a record 1,488.79.

Meanwhile, Kansas City Fed President Esther George, a non-voting member this year, said on Thursday that continued, gradual interest rate hikes were appropriate for economic expansion, Reuters said.

Market expectations for an interest rate increase in December have been "gradually building" since the Federal Reserve's "surprisingly hawkish stance last week," Mizuho Bank economist Zhu Huani said.

Back in Asia, investors also digested the release of economic data out of Japan: August core consumer prices rose 0.7 percent compared with a year earlier, marking an eighth consecutive month of yearly increases, according to Reuters. Retail sales increased 1.7 percent last month compared with the previous year, missing a median estimate for a 2.6 percent rise, Reuters said.

Industrial production data, however, beat forecasts. August figures showed an increase of 2.1 percent compared with the previous month, above the 1.9 percent median forecast, Reuters said.

Over in South Korea, regulators said on Friday they would ban new initial coin offerings, according to Reuters, adding that the trade in virtual currencies in the country had to be more closely supervised.

In corporate news, Toshiba on Thursday signed an agreement to sell its memory chip unit to a group led by Bain Capital for 2 trillion yen ($18 billion). Still, the saga has yet to conclude: Western Digital, which is involved in a joint venture with the Japanese conglomerate, has sought an injunction to prevent Toshiba from selling the unit. Toshiba stock closed up 2.94 percent, outperforming other tech stocks in Japan.

Meanwhile, restaurant chain Genki Sushi finished the session up 4.02 following news it would be merging with Akindo Sushiro, the largest conveyor-belt sushi eatery in Japan, Nikkei Asian Review reported.

On the energy front, oil was mixed after sliding around 1 percent overnight. U.S. crude futures fell 0.14 percent to trade at $51.49 a barrel and global benchmark Brent crude was flat at $57.41.

Brent had climbed to a 26-month high of $59.49 earlier this week following a threat by Turkey to shut down an oil pipeline following an independence referendum in the semiautonomous Kurdish region.