Asia Markets

Asia closes mixed on the last trading day of the year; dollar softens

Key Points
  • Major markets in Asia closed mixed on the last trading day of the year, but have seen significant gains year-to-date
  • MSCI's broad index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan has risen more than 30 percent this year
  • Copper prices were slightly weaker after rallying to four-year highs
  • SoftBank and Uber came to an agreement which would see the Japanese tech giant take a major stake in the ride-hailing company

Major markets in Asia closed narrowly mixed on the last trading day of the year following the moderately higher close seen stateside. On the whole, however, most regional markets have recorded strong gains year-to-date.

The Nikkei 225 was in negative territory, slipping 0.08 percent to close at 22,764.94, as the dollar slipped further against the yen. Still, the index saw gains of some 19 percent for the year. Banks made gains in the session, while automakers and tech names finished mixed. Retailers saw slight losses.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 edged down 0.38 percent to end at 6,065.1, with losses seen in most sectors, barring materials and health care. Banking stocks were slightly lower on the whole: ANZ closed down 0.24 percent and Westpac was lower by 0.63 percent. Among mining names, Rio Tinto climbed 1.23 percent and Fortescue Metals shed 1.21 percent by the end of the day.

Greater China markets traded slightly higher on Friday. The edged up 0.26 percent by 3:07 p.m. HK/SIN, having risen more than 35 percent year-to-date.

On the mainland, the rose 0.35 percent to close at 3,307.97, with gains seen in banking stocks and property names. The Shenzhen Composite closed 0.34 percent higher at 1,899.34.

South Korean markets were closed on Friday, with trade to resume only after the New Year's weekend. The benchmark Kospi index had increased 21.63 percent this year.

Markets across Asia have run up significantly this year, buoyed by the recovery in economic growth globally. MSCI's broad index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan had risen more than 30 percent year-to-date early on Friday.

Those gains were more than the around 25 percent increase seen on the Dow this year.

Dollar on the back foot

The greenback was weaker despite the passage of a major tax bill earlier this month and the prospect of additional interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve in the new year.

The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against six major peers, traded at 92.570 at 2:32 p.m. HK/SIN, near its lowest levels in a month. That's also more than 9 percent below where it began the year.

Against the yen, the dollar edged down to trade at 112.70, after beginning the week around the 113 handle.

"Seasonally light liquidity and end-of-year rebalancing flows continue to dominate price action," Alex Stanley, senior interest rate strategist at National Australia Bank, said in a morning note.

Meanwhile, bitcoin recovered after briefly falling 11 percent on Thursday following South Korea's announcement that it would be implementing additional rules to regulate cryptocurrency trading.

Bitcoin hit a low of $13,498.78 on Thursday before paring some losses to trade at $15,013.84 at 2:34 p.m. HK/SIN, according to industry site CoinDesk. The cryptocurrency has seen volatile trade, touching a record high of above $19,800 and falling to as low as $10,400 in the span of weeks.

On the commodities front, oil extended gains after trading at its highest levels in two and a half years overnight. U.S. crude futures rose 0.67 percent to trade at $60.24 per barrel, levels not seen since mid-2015, Reuters said. Brent crude futures advanced 0.65 percent to $66.59.

Copper, often regarded as a gauge of economic growth, traded near levels not seen in four years. on the London Metal Exchange was 0.49 percent softer at $7,251 per ton after finishing nearly one percent higher in the previous session.

Corporate news

In company news, SoftBank Group and Uber came to an agreement that will see the Japanese tech giant take take a 15 percent stake in the ride-hailing start-up. The deal values Uber at $48 billion, which is a roughly 30 percent discount to its $68 billion valuation in 2016. Shares of SoftBank closed off by 0.11 percent.