Asia markets nudge higher; bitcoin futures make their big debut

  • Major Asian indexes were slightly firmer on Monday
  • Bitcoin was in the spotlight after Cboe bitcoin futures began trading for the first time
  • The dollar held onto most gains made in the last session against a basket of rivals
  • Markets awaited clues from the Federal Reserve over what it may do with interest rates in its upcoming meeting
Pedestrians walk past a stock quotation board flashing the Nikkei 225 key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on Dec. 8, 2017.
Behrouz Mehri | AFP | Getty Images
Pedestrians walk past a stock quotation board flashing the Nikkei 225 key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on Dec. 8, 2017.

Asian markets edged higher in Monday trade as investors focused their attention on the launch of bitcoin futures, and an upcoming Federal Reserve meeting that's slated for later in the week.

Japan's Nikkei 225 closed up 0.56 percent as most trading houses and automakers recorded gains. Tech shares, were a mixed picture, with Sony falling 1.82 percent and SoftBank Group higher by 0.83 percent.

Shares of construction company Obayashi Corporation were down 7.19 percent. The move followed a report from local newspaper Asahi Shimbun that prosecutors suspected the company was involved in bid-rigging.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi reversed early losses to end 0.30 percent higher as automakers and some tech stocks declined. Hyundai Motor fell 5.36 percent and Samsung Electronics was off by 0.42 percent.

Samsung Heavy Industries announced Joonou Nam would be the shipbuilder's new CEO following the resignation of its last chief executive, Reuters said. Shares closed down 1.31 percent after plunging some 10 percent earlier.

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 was higher by 0.07 percent. The energy and materials sub-indexes gained, while utilities and health care stocks edged down. Major miners rose following better-than-expected trade data out of China in the previous session: Rio Tinto added 0.40 percent, and BHP was 0.11 percent higher.

The Hang Seng Index tacked on 1 percent, buoyed by strong performances from casinos, energy-related plays and financials. Wynn Macau advanced 5 percent and HSBC Holdings added 2 percent.

Mainland markets also notched gains. The Shanghai Composite edged up 1 percent and the Shenzhen Composite rose 1.49 percent, with the tech sector among the best-performing in the Chinese markets.

Bitcoin futures hit the markets

Elsewhere, bitcoin jumped as futures of the digital currency began trade Sunday evening U.S. time. The cryptocurrency traded at $16,587.84 at 11:41 a.m. HK/SIN, according to data from Coindesk. Meanwhile, the January contract for bitcoin futures cracked the $18,000 level after opening trade at $15,460.

The Cboe Futures Exchange started trading in Cboe bitcoin futures at about 6 p.m. ET (7 a.m. HK/SIN) under the ticker symbol XBT. The Cboe is the first of the regulated exchanges in the United States to offer a futures contract for the cryptocurrency. Commentators have said that might offer bitcoin some legitimacy in the eyes of institutional investors.

The Cboe Global Markets website was temporarily down when the cryptocurrency futures began trading on Sunday evening U.S. time. Cboe subsequently told Reuters that its trading systems were "operating normally."

Bitcoin has seen a more than 1,600 percent jump since the start of the year and topped $16,700 per token as of Dec. 7 — although at least one exchange had seen the price exceed $19,000.

Stable dollar

In the currency market, the dollar was a touch softer against a basket of rivals at 93.815 at 3 p.m. HK/SIN, compared to levels below 93.300 seen in the previous week.

Strength in the dollar, or firmness at the very least, is expected this week, with markets looking for an interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve at the end of its two-day meeting on Wednesday U.S. time, Mizuho Bank FX strategist Chang Wei Liang said in a note.

While a rate hike has mostly been priced in for the FOMC's December meeting, "prospects for further tightening is the real question," he added.

Among other major currencies, the Japanese yen firmed, trading at 113.42 to the dollar. The Australian dollar traded at $0.7531 and the euro last traded at $1.1785.

The New Zealand dollar rallied after the country's finance minister Grant Robertson said in a statement that Adrian Orr will take over as governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. The currency was up by more than 1 percent to a two-week high of $0.6922 to the U.S. dollar.

Among commodities, oil prices were softer on Monday. Brent crude futures shed 0.08 percent to trade at $63.35 per barrel and U.S. crude edged down 0.12 percent to $57.29.

The U.S. economy added 228,000 jobs last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists polled by Reuters expected a gain of 200,000. The unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 percent.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.