Markets in Asia slip, but China markets buck the trend to close higher

  • Asian markets closed mixed on Thursday, tracking losses seen stateside.
  • China markets outperformed regional markets after the release of better-than-expected manufacturing numbers.
  • Global stock markets finished February with losses, with the Hang Seng Index having its worst month since January 2016.
  • The dollar steadied after touching a five-week high against a basket of currencies earlier.

Asian stocks closed mixed on the first trading day of the month after finishing February with losses. Declines in Japan and Australia came after sharp losses were recorded stateside in the previous session, while China markets rose.

The Nikkei 225 closed at its lowest levels since mid-February. The index declined 1.56 percent, or 343.77 points, on the first day of March, with automakers, technology stocks and financials closing lower.

Heavyweight SoftBank Group lost 1.1 percent, Toyota slid 2.09 percent and apparel company Fast Retailing was off 1.15 percent by the end of the session. Among manufacturing names, Fanuc declined 1.14 percent and Kyocera lost 2.05 percent.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
---
HSI
---
ASX 200
---
SHANGHAI
---
KOSPI
---
CNBC 100
---

In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 declined 0.71 percent to end at 5,973.30. Losses were led by the energy sub-index, which fell 2.17 percent. Mining majors were also weaker on the day, with Rio Tinto falling 4.08 percent by the end of the session.

Oil producers closed lower as crude prices remained soft, with Oil Search down 4.5 percent. Australia's "Big Four" banks were also weaker, with ANZ down 0.86 percent while its peers recorded slighter losses.

China muscles higher

Greater China markets shrugged off broader market sentiment to edge higher, outperforming markets elsewhere in the region.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index reversed early losses to edge up 0.22 percent by 3:03 p.m. HK/SIN. The financials sector inched higher by 0.09 percent after earlier trading in negative territory, with China Construction Bank advancing 0.12 percent while HSBC traded lower by 0.32 percent an hour before the market close.

Property developers were a mixed picture, although several large caps recorded significant gains: Country Garden tacked on 1.56 percent, Sino Land gained 3.18 percent and CK Asset rose 1.18 percent. Index heavyweight Tencent traded higher by 3.01 percent ahead of the close.

Mainland markets closed in positive territory after two straight days of losses on the benchmark Shanghai composite. Gains on Thursday also came on the back of expectation-topping private manufacturing activity data. The Shanghai composite tacked on 0.44 percent to close at 3,273.76 and the Shenzhen composite jumped 1.23 percent.

Meanwhile, the CSI 300 index, which tracks blue chips listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen, rose 0.63 percent on the day, with technology names and consumer stocks among the best-performers on the day.

Caixin manufacturing PMI for February released on Thursday came in at 51.6, a touch above the 51.3 forecast in a Reuters poll. Official manufacturing PMI had missed forecasts, with analysts noting the impact of the Lunar New Year holiday on manufacturing activity.

MSCI's broad index of shares listed in Asia Pacific excluding Japan was lower by 0.28 percent by 3:12 p.m. HK/SIN.

Markets in South Korea and Thailand were closed for holidays on Thursday.

Losses in Asia came after U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday despite the Dow Jones industrial average advancing as much as 166 points earlier in the session. The 30-stock index closed lower by 1.5 percent at 25,029.20.

Asian markets finished February with losses after a global rout in stock markets earlier that month. The Shanghai composite and Hang Seng Index were down 6.4 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively. That was their worst month in more than two years.

For the month, the Dow and S&P 500 closed lower by 4.3 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

Dollar steadies, Powell testimony ahead

In currencies, the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six currencies, was stable at 90.696 by 2:51 p.m. HK/SIN after touching a five-week high of 90.744 earlier.

The dollar firmed after new Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell gave a positive assessment of the U.S. economy on Tuesday and signaled interest rates could rise more than three times this year.

Powell is due to address Congress again on Thursday during U.S. market hours.

Against the yen the dollar pared some of Wednesday's losses to trade at 106.76, but remained below levels around the 107 handle seen during Asian trade in the last session.

"In the near term, the underlying motivation in the market may remain one of repricing with respect to the FOMC," Emmanuel Ng, an economist at OCBC Bank, said in a note.

Gains in the dollar index also came as the euro slid in the last session, ahead of elections in Italy at the weekend. The common currency was a touch firmer at $1.2203, after falling as low as $1.2186 in the last session. Meanwhile, sterling traded flat at $1.3766 after Wednesday's sharp fall which came about on Brexit worries.

On the energy front, prices were steady following the overnight drop in prices, after data reflected an increase in U.S. stockpiles. U.S. West Texas Intermediate were higher by 0.15 percent at $61.74 per barrel. Brent crude futures, meanwhile, were nearly flat at $64.75.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.