Asia Markets

Major Asian indexes close mostly higher; dollar index falls below 90

Key Points
  • Asian indexes closed mostly higher, following significant gains seen in the last session
  • The dollar index slipped below 90 ahead of an upcoming rates decision from the European Central Bank
  • Trade concerns were in the background after President Donald Trump approved tariffs on imported solar cells and washing machines earlier this week

Asian markets closed mostly higher on Wednesday as the dollar continued its decline against a basket of other currencies. Most indexes in the region had recorded significant gains in the last session.

The Nikkei 225 slid 0.76 percent, or 183.37 points, to close at 23,940.78 one day after the index hit a fresh 26-year high. The decline came as the dollar continued its fall against the yen. Major automakers, financials and manufacturing companies recorded declines, with Fanuc closing lower by 3.67 percent.

Major tech names were also broadly lower: Nikon fell 1.14 percent and Sony tumbled 5.06 percent by the end of the day.

Data released Wednesday showed the country's exports increased 9.3 percent last month when compared to one year ago, Reuters said. While that was below the 10.1 percent forecast in a Reuters poll, the value of Japan's December exports to Asia still rose to a new record.

Over in Seoul, the benchmark Kospi index closed higher by 0.06 percent at 2,538. The technology sector was a mixed picture, with Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix higher by 0.37 percent and 1.57 percent, respectively. LG Electronics closed down 6.39 percent.

In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.29 percent to close at 6,054.70. Most sectors gained, with the exception of the materials and telecommunications sub-indexes. The country's "Big Four" banks were mostly higher, with Westpac rising 0.39 percent on the day.

Major mining names were broadly lower: Rio Tinto declined 0.39 percent and BHP edged down 0.36 percent. That followed the move lower in base metal prices overnight on the back of soft China demand data.

The reversed early losses to climb 0.19 percent by 3:03 p.m. HK/SIN. Energy-related stocks carved out significant gains, with Petrochina rising 6.61 percent by 3:09 p.m. HK/SIN. Financials were mixed, with insurer AIA slipping 0.3 percent and HSBC edging up 0.06 percent ahead of the market close.

Hong Kong's benchmark index, which closed higher for the sixth consecutive session on Tuesday, is trading more than 9 percent higher year-to-date.

On the mainland, the rose 0.4 percent to end at 3,560.73, extending gains after trading at its highest levels in two years in the last session. The Shenzhen composite advanced 0.51 percent to finish the session at 1,960.93.

MSCI's index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan was lower by 0.37 percent at 3:05 p.m. HK/SIN.

Dollar index falls below 90

In currencies, the dollar was broadly weaker on Wednesday ahead of an upcoming interest rates decision from the European Central Bank due Thursday during European hours.

The greenback fetched 110.01 yen, having fallen as low as 109.79 earlier. The dollar had risen as high as 111.17 on Tuesday after the Bank of Japan kept its monetary policy steady — but that rally later subsided.

The euro last traded at $1.2312, near its highest levels since December 2014. The common currency had firmed overnight following the release of upbeat euro zone consumer confidence data.

Meanwhile, the dollar index, which tracks the dollar against six major currencies sank to its lowest levels in three years. The dollar index stood at 89.934 at 2:48 p.m. HK/SIN. That was below levels around the 90.4 handle seen at the beginning of the week.

On the energy front, U.S. crude traded higher by 0.05 percent at $64.50 per barrel after settling higher by 1.4 percent in the last session. Brent crude futures slipped 0.14 percent to trade at $69.86.

Trade concerns in the background

Trade concerns also simmered in the background after President Donald Trump approved tariffs on imported solar cells and certain washing machines earlier this week. South Korea indicated on Tuesday that it would raise the matter with the World Trade Organization.

"Outside of stepping away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this was the first real shift from protectionist rhetoric to actual action against China and others," ANZ Research said in a morning note, although it acknowledged the economic impact appeared "relatively minor" for the time being.

"[T]he real question is how far the protectionist stance might start to be extended," Richard Yetsenga, chief economist at ANZ, said in the note.

U.S. stocks closed mixed on Tuesday, with market focus shifting from politics to corporate earnings after a government shutdown came to an end on Monday.

As of last week, 79 percent of S&P 500 companies that have reported results for the fourth quarter have surpassed expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Corporate news

Shenzhen-listed HNA Investment Group announced it would suspend trade of its shares from Jan. 24 pending an announcement, Reuters said. No reason was provided for the halt.

Meanwhile, shares of Leshi Internet Information and Technology plunged 10 percent, the daily fall limit, after its shares began trading on Wednesday following a nine-month trading halt.