Asia Markets

Most Asian stocks gain after Wall Street climbs on US tax optimism

Key Points
  • Asian stocks mostly climbed in Tuesday trade
  • U.S. stocks closed at record highs as investors took bets ahead on a tax plan that would overhaul the U.S. tax system
  • Despite that optimism, the dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies
  • A bid-rigging investigation saw several Japanese construction names tumble
  • Mining stocks in Australia popped on higher commodities prices

Major Asian indexes closed mostly higher on Tuesday after U.S. stocks finished the Monday session at record highs on optimism ahead of the passage of a key tax bill.

Japan's Nikkei 225 closed lower by 0.15 percent, or 33.77 points, at 22,868. Most automakers and retailers saw gains, with Mitsubishi Motor outperforming its peers in the auto sector and gaining 2.13 percent. Tech shares were mostly lower.

Other movers included several construction names involved in a probe into bid-rigging in a maglev project. Losses in Taisei Corp. steepened, with the company's shares closing down 6.3 percent on reports that its offices were raided by prosecutors on Tuesday. Kajima Corp. and Shimizu Corp. shares fell 5.24 percent and 2.75 percent, respectively, after the companies' offices were raided by authorities on Monday. Obayashi Corp. declined 1.3 percent by the end of the day.

In Seoul, the benchmark Kospi index shed 0.13 percent to close at 2,478.53 as even blue-chip tech names rose. Samsung Electronics tacked on 0.7 percent and SK Hynix jumped 3.89 percent on the day. South Korean steelmakers were mixed, with Posco rising 0.31 percent but Hyundai Steel slipping 0.53 percent.

Meanwhile, automakers came under slight pressure, with Hyundai Motor edging down 0.65 percent. The move lower came on the back of ongoing labor union disputes at the company's plants, as well as concerns over potential changes in the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The Korean government reportedly expects Washington to request reduced non-tariff barriers on US car exports to South Korea, local newspaper Korea Joong Ang Daily said.

In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.54 percent to close at 6,071.8. Mining stocks buoyed the broader index following the move higher in base metals and iron ore in the last session: BHP closed up 0.78 percent and Mount Gibson Iron rose 5.95 percent. Gold miners also rose, with the sub-index climbing 1.97 percent.

Greater China markets, meanwhile, trended higher. The was up a convincing 0.86 percent by 3:01 p.m. HK/SIN as gains in tech, financial and casino stocks offset losses seen in property names. Tencent was up 1.98 percent and insurers AIA and China Life Insurance rose 2 percent and 1.87 percent, respectively, at that time.

Mainland markets also notched gains, with the tacking on 0.88 percent to end at 3,296.68 and the Shenzhen Composite advancing 0.87 percent to finish at 1,905.62. Tech and financials were among the top-performing sectors on the day.

US tax bill moves closer to law

Tax reform was the main driving force for optimism in markets stateside. Included in the finalized version of their tax plan is a provision to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent in 2018, which would likely give corporate profits a boost.

Two holdout Republican senators on Monday confirmed that they would back the tax plan, leaving Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., the only publicly undeclared GOP senator. With Sen. John McCain fighting brain cancer, the bill will fail in the Senate if two of the remaining 51 Republicans oppose it.

The House is expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday U.S. time.

Major U.S. indexes climbed as the bill moved closer to potentially becoming legislation. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 140.46 points, or 0.57 percent, to its 70th record close this year. The index, which closed at 24,792.2 on Monday, has climbed more than 5,000 points in the year.

Despite optimism over the tax plan, the dollar edged lower against a basket of major currencies overnight. On Tuesday, the dollar index was mostly flat at 93.646 at 2:52 p.m. HK/SIN after trading above the 94 handle in the last session.

Against the yen, the dollar was steady at 112.53, near levels seen at the end of last week.

In other news, President Donald Trump on Monday unveiled his national security strategy, which referred to Russia and China as "revisionist powers." It also noted that those countries were "determined to make economies less free and less fair."

Before the release of the document, China had said on Monday that its economic relations with the U.S. were "healthy" and mutually beneficial, Reuters reported.

On the energy front, oil prices were slightly firmer as markets digested a mix of variables. That included the ongoing Forties Pipeline shutdown in the North Sea and an oil union strike in Nigeria, although Reuters reported that the strike was ended within the day.

On Tuesday, U.S. crude futures edged up by 0.33 percent to trade at $57.35 after slipping slightly in the previous session. Brent crude was 0.25 percent higher at $63.57.

Corporate news

Chinese conglomerate HNA Group plans to sell overseas commercial properties worth some $6 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported. HNA, among some of China's most acquisitive companies in recent years, is now attempting to fundraise to pay off debt, the Journal said. Hong Kong-listed HNA Holding was flat at 3:03 p.m HK/SIN while the company's Shanghai-listed Hainan Airline unit finished the session 0.96 percent higher.

Toyota on Monday announced it intends to offer an electrified version or option for all of its existing Toyota and Lexus models by around 2025. The automaker will begin selling more than 10 electric models from 2020, beginning in China before expanding to more markets. Toyota stock closed up 0.45 percent.

Meanwhile, a Vietnamese unit of Thai Beverage has won an auction to acquire a 54 stake worth $4.8 billion in Sabeco, Vietnam's largest brewer, Reuters reported on Monday, citing a source.

— CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.