Asia markets carve out gains as dollar firms; a2 Milk jumps 26%

  • Asian stock indexes carved out gains on Wednesday after a session of choppy trade in Japanese markets.
  • Hong Kong and Taiwan markets outperformed other regional indexes.
  • Australian corporates took center stage on the earnings front on Wednesday.
  • The greenback extended gains while oil prices slipped.

Asian stock indexes closed higher on Wednesday after a session of choppy trade in Japanese markets. More convincing gains were seen in Taiwan and Hong Kong markets.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index closed up 0.21 percent, or 45.71 points, at 21,970.81 after a session of choppy trade. Manufacturing stocks finished the day mostly higher, with Fanuc Manufacturing advancing 0.4 percent by the end of the session.

Automakers and technology names were mixed, while bank stocks came under pressure. Among blue chip names, Toyota gained 0.12 percent, Honda rose 1.64 percent and SoftBank Group slipped 0.55 percent on the day.

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CNBC 100

Meanwhile, the Kospi edged up by 0.6 percent to close at 2,429.65.

Steelmakers traded lower after the South Korean government submitted a World Trade Organization complaint over U.S. duties, although they finished the day off their session lows. Posco closed lower by 0.14 percent and Hyundai Steel was down 0.57 percent on the day.

Of note, the governor of the country's central bank on Wednesday said it was "prepared to respond" should the Federal Reserve raise interest rates more aggressively than markets were expecting, Reuters reported.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 closed higher by 0.05 percent at 5,943.7 after hovering around the flat line for most of the session as investors focused on earnings releases. Gains in the consumer staples and discretionary sectors were offset by losses in the materials sector.

Major miners finished the session in the red: Shares of Fortescue Metals Group fell 4.66 percent after the company earlier reported that net profit after tax fell 44 percent to $681 million in the six months ending December. BHP closed down 4.76 percent after the mining major reported first-half earnings on Tuesday.

Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers reported on Tuesday that first-half net profit after tax came in at 212 million Australian dollars ($167 million) — an 86.6 percent decline compared to one year ago. Excluding a A$1.3 billion writedown, net profit stood at A$1.54 billion ($1.21 billion), a 2.7 percent decline from a year ago. Wesfarmers shares were up 3.02 percent by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, shares of a2 Milk surged 26.48 percent after the company announced record half-year profit. Investors also cheered a manufacturing and distribution agreement that the company signed with New Zealand-listed Fonterra.

"Global risk sentiments may remain rangebound post-holidays," OCBC Treasury Research said in a morning note.

Gains in Hong Kong were more decisive, with the Hang Seng Index rising 1.66 percent by 3:02 p.m. HK/SIN as financials led gains on the index. China Construction Bank rose 2.88 percent to contribute 75 points to the index's overall 492.84-point gain, while HSBC tacked on 1.05 percent an hour before the market close.

The property sector turned positive as the session wore on, with large cap property stocks carving out gains. Country Garden gained 4.27 percent and CK Asset traded flat. Meanwhile, oil-related and technology stocks also climbed, with CNOOC rising 2.47 percent and index heavyweight Tencent advancing 1.93 percent.

Elsewhere, Taiwan's benchmark Taiex closed higher by 2.81 percent as markets re-opened for trade after the Lunar New Year holiday. Apple suppliers put in a strong showing, with Largan Precision and Pegatron rising 7.34 percent and 5.12 percent, respectively.

Markets in China remained closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 1.01 percent, or 254.63 points, snapping a six-day winning streak. The steep losses came on the back of Walmart stock tumbling 10.2 percent after the retailer reported lower-than-expected earnings. Other U.S. stock indexes saw smaller declines.

Higher U.S. bond yields also pressured stocks stateside in the last session. The 2-year Treasury note yield stood at 2.26 percent on Wednesday after touching its highest levels in almost a decade overnight. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note last stood at 2.895 percent.

Ahead, investors awaited the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve due during U.S. hours. The release of the minutes come after a recent rout in stock markets on concerns over rising interest rates. Markets are awaiting the minutes for clues on the central bank's future policy.

The dollar firmed on Wednesday, extending gains made overnight following the overnight U.S. Treasury auction. The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of six rivals, stood at 89.834 at 2:46 p.m. HK/SIN. Against the yen, the dollar edged up to trade at 107.71, above the 106 handle it started the week at.

On the commodities front, U.S. crude futures declined 0.99 percent to trade at $61.18 per barrel. Brent crude futures edged down by 0.7 percent to trade at $64.79.