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Most Asia markets eke out gains after copper soars; dollar slides

  • Most Asian markets notched gains on Thursday, with the Kospi outperforming other indexes
  • The Nikkei 225 finished the session lower after the dollar lost ground against the yen
  • Oil prices, which recently touched two-and-a-half-year highs, edged higher
  • Copper prices paused after rising to their highest levels in four years

Asian markets closed mostly higher on Thursday following a rally in oil and copper prices this week. Trade was thin ahead of the long New Year's weekend.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed lower by 0.56 percent at 22,783.98 as the dollar lost ground against the yen. Most energy stocks that had run up in the previous session gave up some of those gains to finish lower. Banks, automakers and most tech firms also closed lower.

Those moves came despite official data earlier in the morning showing retail sales and industrial output for November had both topped median projections.

Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi bounced 1.26 percent to end at 2,467.49, outpacing other indexes in the region. The move higher had been driven by gains in blue-chip tech names, although retailers also climbed higher, with Lotte Himart closing up 4.39 percent.

Samsung Electronics finished the session higher by 3.24 percent, shrugging off headlines on Wednesday that prosecutors were looking for a 12-year prison sentence for Jay Y. Lee. The Samsung Electronics vice chairman is appealing a five-year sentence linked to a corruption case.

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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In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.3 percent to close at 6,088.1, with gains seen in the resources space and telecommunications sectors. Utilities and industrials finished the session slightly lower.

Greater China markets also trended higher. The Hang Seng Index tacked on 0.73 percent by 3:34 p.m. HK/SIN while mainland markets pared losses seen on Wednesday.

The Shanghai Composite edged up 0.65 percent to close at 3,297.21 and the Shenzhen Composite advanced 0.45 percent to end at 1,887.34. The move higher had been driven by gains in the consumer, materials and energy sectors.

Stateside, Wall Street closed slightly higher on Wednesday amid thin trade, with gains seen in real estate and utilities. The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 0.11 percent, or 28.09 points, to close at 24,774.30.

Oil prices, which had run up to a two-and-a-half year high following an attack on a Libyan pipeline, were slightly firmer after pulling back on Wednesday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate was higher by 0.25 percent at $59.79 a barrel. Brent crude futures edged up by 0.29 percent to trade at $66.63.

A rally in copper continued, with the metal trading near its highest levels in four years. Three-month copper on the London Metals Exchange rose 1.11 percent at $7,299 per ton following strong import numbers out of China earlier this week.

The base metal is often referred to as "Dr. Copper," because it frequently provides a good gauge of global economic growth.

Dollar makes a slide

The dollar extended losses after slipping overnight. The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against six peers, traded at 92.714 at 3:26 p.m. HK/SIN, compared to levels around the 93 handle seen in the last session.

Against the Japanese yen, the greenback softened to trade at 112.72.

The move lower in the dollar came after U.S. Treasury yields slipped in the last session. Yields on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note last stood at 2.42 percent, compared to the 2.47 percent seen on Tuesday.

Commodity-linked currencies were firmer despite the move lower in oil prices in the previous session. The Australian dollar traded at $0.7803, its highest level in around two months.

Bitcoin heads lower, again

Meanwhile, among cryptocurrencies, bitcoin prices once again declined on Thursday. The latest moves came as the South Korean government said it would implement new rules to regulate cryptocurrency trading, Reuters said.

Bitcoin traded at $14,222.45 at 3:25 p.m. HK/SIN, according to CoinDesk, after falling as much as 11 percent earlier.

Corporate news

Privately held Zhejiang Geely Holding Group on Wednesday announced that it would be acquiring investment firm Cevian Capital's 8.2 percent stake in Sweden-based truck maker AB Volvo. According to Reuters calculation, the deal is valued around 27.2 billion Swedish crowns ($3.26 billion). Hong Kong-listed Geely Automobile Holdings was up 2.91 percent at 3:27 p.m. HK/SIN.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi UFJ Group on Wednesday said it was "cautiously optimistic" that regulators would approve its bid to acquire 73.8 percent of Indonesia's Bank Danamon, Reuters reported. Foreign ownership in Indonesian banks is typically capped at 40 percent.

MUFG shares fell 2.23 percent by the end of the session, underperforming their financial peers. Danamon shares rose 2.92 percent by 3:28 p.m. HK/SIN, extending gains from the last session.