Asian shares close mixed as investors digest earnings; Honda surges 5.2%

  • Most major Asian indexes slid on Thursday, but MSCI's broad index of equities in Asia Pacific excluding Japan held above the flat line
  • Shares of National Australia Bank fell more than 2 percent
  • Australian mining stocks climbed after iron prices rose in the last session
  • Investors waited for a series of events to play out, including the naming of the next Federal Reserve chair and a U.S. tax reform bill

Most major Asian indexes slid on Thursday even though a broad index of equities in the region clung to slight gains. Investors also digested the Federal Reserve's decision to keep interest rates steady.

Markets on the move 

The Nikkei 225 closed at a fresh 21-year high on strength in automakers and most energy stocks. The index closed up 0.53 percent, or 119.04 points, at 22,539.12.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi slid 0.4 percent to end at 2,546.36. Blue-chip tech stocks edged down after closing higher by more than 3 percent in the Wednesday session: Samsung Electronics closed down 0.28 percent and SK Hynix lost 2.23 percent.

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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Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 closed lower by 0.1 percent at 5,931.71 as gains in mining and energy stocks were offset by losses in financials. Miners climbed after iron prices rose on Wednesday: Rio Tinto rose 3.33 percent on the day, Fortescue Metals climbed 4.06 percent and Atlas Iron jumped 12.5 percent in the session.

Shares of National Australia Bank fell 2.83 percent after it reported that full-year profit for the year ending Sept. 30 came in at 6.64 billion ($5.09 billion). The bank also said expenses were expected to increase between 5 and 8 percent for the 2018 fiscal year and that a net 4,000 jobs at the company would be "impacted" by automation efforts.

Greater China markets came under pressure. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index declined 0.1 percent by 3:09 p.m. HK/SIN. Energy and tech shares saw strong gains, but Standard Chartered tumbled 5.82 percent by 3:13 p.m. HK/SIN after earnings reported on Wednesday failed to impress investors.

On the mainland, the Shanghai Composite edged down 0.38 percent to finish the session at 3,383.14 and the Shenzhen Composite fell 0.672 percent to end at 1,989.98.

MSCI's broad index of equities in Asia Pacific excluding Japan held 0.08 percent above the flat line at 3:10 p.m. HK/SIN.

Stateside, stocks closed mixed on Wednesday after the Fed held interest rates steady. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.25 percent, or 57.77 points, to end at 23,435.01.

The lead up

The Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged on Wednesday, a move that was largely expected by markets. The central bank did not explicitly signal when the next interest rate hike would come, but said economic activity in the U.S. was "rising at a solid rate."

Still, markets took that as an indication that the Fed would likely raise interest rates in December. Odds for a December rate hike stood at 98.2 percent, according to the CME Group's FedWatch tool early on Thursday.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump will choose Fed Governor Jerome "Jay" Powell to be the next chair of the central bank, the Wall Street Journal said, citing a source. Trump is due to make his formal announcement on the matter on Thursday U.S. time.

The release of House Republicans' tax reform bill will also be in the spotlight on Thursday in the U.S. after its unveiling was postponed by one day.

Ahead, investors will keep an eye on the Bank of England, which many expect to raise interest rates for the first time in more than 10 years on Thursday.

Still, one market watcher was less certain about whether or not the central bank would hike rates.

"The market is pricing in a 90.4 percent chance of a hike ... but we're not so sure that the BoE is ready to move, especially given the larger trade deficit, recent weakness in manufacturing activity, retail sales and slowdown in CPI growth," Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy for BK Asset Management, said in a note.

Also of note, the ISM manufacturing index and private-sector jobs data released on Wednesday showed the U.S. economy was chugging along solidly.

Corporate news

Honda expects full-year operating profit in the year ending March to come in at 745 billion yen ($6.53 billion), above its earlier estimate of 725 billion yen, Reuters said. The upward revision was attributed to solid auto sales in China, Reuters added. Honda stock rallied, closing up 5.2 percent as other Japanese automaker traded mixed.

Meanwhile, Li Ka-shing's CK Asset Holdings announced on Wednesday it was selling a property in the Hong Kong central business district for a record 40.2 billion Hong Kong dollars ($5.15 billion). Shares of the company jumped 3.55 percent by 3:13 p.m. HK/SIN.

Tesla suppliers in Taiwan closed lower after shares of the automaker slid on Wednesday when it reported a larger-than-expected loss. Auto parts maker Hota Industrial finished down 3.87 percent and Bizlink, a manufacturer of electric vehicle harnesses, ended down 4.49 percent.

Watching the dollar 

The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of six rivals, edged down to 94.501 at 3:21 p.m. HK/SIN. The greenback had broadly firmed in the last session after the Fed held interest rates steady.

Against the yen, the greenback pared gains to trade at 113.94, after fetching as high as 114.21 earlier in the session.

The British pound edged up ahead of the Bank of England's rates decision. The currency last traded at $1.3276.

The commodities trade 

Oil prices were little changed after settling lower on Wednesday. Brent crude edged up 0.15 percent to trade at $60.58 a barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate was flat at $54.30.