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Asia markets track Wall Street gains, euro slips

  • Asian indexes closed mostly higher, tracking U.S. gains
  • South Korean 'THAAD-related' stocks were mixed, paring earlier losses
  • The euro slipped after an election in Catalonia pointed to a win by parties that want to break from Spain

Asian markets closed mostly higher in the last day of trade before Christmas, tracking moderate gains made on Wall Street.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.16 percent, or 36.66 points, to close at 22,902.76, with gains seen in trading houses and most financials, while automakers and tech traded mixed.

Share of Kobe Steel closed down 2.36 percent after it acknowledged that three senior executives knew about data falsification taking place at the company, Reuters said. The steelmaker, currently embroiled in a scandal involving tampering with product specifications, said its investigation into the matter would be completed near the end of February, Reuters added.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi tacked on 0.44 percent to close at 2,440.54 as blue chips that had fallen in the last session clawed back gains. Samsung Electronics closed up 1.14 percent and Hyundai Motor rose 2 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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So-called THAAD-linked stocks that have been sensitive to developments in ties between China and South Korea pared losses after seeing steeper declines earlier in the session. Lotte Shopping ended the session flat, Hotel Shilla rose 2.1 percent and AmorePacific lost 0.5 percent on the day.

Meanwhile, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged up by 0.15 percent to close at 6,069.7 on strength in the resources sectors. Major miners and oil-related plays rose in morning trade: Rio Tinto closed higher by 0.84 percent, Santos rose 0.76 percent and Mount Gibson Iron added 1.11 percent.

Commodities prices had risen overnight on positive market sentiment. "The continued improvement in market sentiment should see [commodities] prices remain well-supported leading into the holiday period," Tom Kenny, senior economist at ANZ, said in a note.

The Hang Seng Index advanced 0.32 percent by 3:01 p.m. HK/SIN, as tech shares led the index higher. Tencent was higher by 0.9 percent at that time. Among blue chip names, financial giant HSBC was up 0.38 percent. Real estate also rose, with China Vanke adding 3.49 percent and Evergrande gaining 1.23 percent late in the afternoon.

Mainland markets closed mostly flat, with the Shanghai Composite closing lower by 0.08 percent at 3,297.36. The Shenzhen Composite lost 0.18 percent to finish at 1,901.56. Energy stocks were among the top performers on the day, while banks and financials recorded slight declines.

Euro slips after Catalonia votes

Meanwhile, the euro slid against the dollar after results from Catalonia's regional election pointed to a win for pro-independence parties. The election had been called after Spain's government sacked the regional parliament when the latter declared independence in October.

Pro-independence parties are set to win a majority of the seats in the assembly, with most votes tallied so far. The common currency traded at $1.1851 at 2:33 p.m. HK/SIN, compared to levels around $1.1875 seen on Thursday.

US stocks gain — but bitcoin takes a tumble

Several major U.S. corporations revealed details on how they would spend savings that a recently passed tax bill, which will reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, would bring about. Among those spending measures were wage increases and employee bonuses.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a stop-gap spending bill that would help to avoid a government shutdown. The House of Representatives approved the bill earlier on Thursday. The passage of the funding bill by the Senate now allows for President Donald Trump to sign both the Republicans' tax bill and the government funding bill as early as Friday.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 55.64 points, or 0.23 percent, to close at 24,782.29, with other indexes recording similarly moderate gains.

Markets were also supported by robust U.S. growth data, which showed the U.S. economy grew 3.2 percent in the third quarter. That was a slight downward revision compared to the 3.3 percent reported in November, but remained the fastest rate of growth seen in longer than two years, Reuters said.

In currencies, the dollar edged up against a basket of currencies, with the dollar index at 93.407 at 2:33 p.m. HK/SIN, above Thursday's close of 93.297. The greenback was firmer against the yen, last fetching 113.36 yen.

The Canadian dollar was steady after rising to its highest levels in more than two weeks following the release of better-than-expected inflation and retail sales numbers. The loonie traded at $1.2740 to the dollar after touching a high of $1.2696 overnight.

Bitcoin had another volatile day in what has already been a volatile week, with the cryptocurrency tumbling more than $2,000 in the span of just 12 hours.

After plumbing a low of $13,077.94, bitcoin was changing hands at $13,884.99 at 2:34 p.m. HK/SIN, according to industry site CoinDesk.

On the energy front, oil prices were slightly lower, but with neither of the main futures moving very far. Brent crude futures were 0.14 percent lower at $64.81 per barrel and U.S. West Texas Intermediate shed 0.29 percent to trade at $58.19.

Corporate news 

Japanese pharmaceuticals company Eisai plummeted 14.85 percent by the end of the day after it announced that a drug it was developing to treat Alzheimer's Disease had not met its criteria for success in a mid-stage trial. Eisai is developing the drug with U.S.-based Biogen, which also saw its stock fall 3.28 percent in the U.S. session.

Meanwhile, panel maker Japan Display denied reports that it was seeking investment from three Chinese companies. Japan Display said in a statement that it was looking to set up partnerships with "global companies." Shares closed down 1.65 percent.

Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers said in a statement it would sell it its Curragh coal mine to U.S.-based Coronado Coal Group for A$700 million ($540 million). In addition, the deal will see Wesfarmers receive 25 percent of Curragh's export coal revenue generated in excess of a realized metallurgical coal price of $145 per ton. Wesfarmers shares were down 0.96 percent by the end of the session.

A South Korean court issued a two-year suspended prison sentence to Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin, Reuters said. Shin, who had denied any wrongdoing, had faced corruption-related charges.

Ahead of the sentence, Lotte Shopping had closed flat, holding company Lotte Corp. had finished higher by 1.48 percent, and Lotte Chemical was down 1.1 percent at the closing bell.