Asia Markets

Asian markets end mixed as investors await US inflation data

Key Points
  • Australia, Hong Kong and China markets declined, while Japan and South Korea traded higher on Tuesday.
  • Chinese banks were the out-performers on Tuesday.
  • Major Asian steel producers were in the red following President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Asian stock markets ended mixed on Tuesday, after Wall Street gave up gains and as investors look forward to the release of U.S. inflation data later in the day.

But major steel producers in the region suffered losses on expectations that they would be hit by President Donald Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

"We believe that steel products from South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, South Africa, Australia, U.A.E. and Argentina are most at risk of displacement from the U.S. market," energy research firm Wood Mackenzie said in a note. "These countries are the least likely to be exempted from tariffs and their steel exports have the highest displacement potential."

Australian shares eased 0.36 percent, with Bluescope Steel down 1.51 percent and Rio Tinto at 1.96 percent lower by Tuesday's close. Financials also lost ground as a probe into bank misconduct starts Tuesday; AMP lost 0.74 percent while Westpac crept down 0.2 percent.

The NAB business survey found that operating conditions in the country had improved in February, with sales and profits increasing sharply. The Australian dollar was against the U.S. dollar, trading at 0.7876 at 3:10 p.m. HK/SIN.

Over in Japan, the benchmark index Nikkei 225 alternated between being in the red and green before closing 0.66 higher despite fresh developments in a cronyism scandal that could hit Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government. Within the steel sector, JFE Holdings and Nippon Steel eased 0.68 percent each.

The yen fell after holding firm earlier in the day. The Japanese currency traded at 106.84 per U.S. dollar at 3:10 p.m. HK/SIN.

"While a less stable government might ordinarily lessen support for that currency, the market is also mindful about whether this could potentially call into question the longevity of the Abenomics reflation agenda," analysts from the National Australia Bank wrote in a Tuesday report.

South Korea's Kospi index was up 0.42 percent at the close, after steel player Posco recoup earlier losses to gain 0.14 percent. Other steel stocks such as Dongkuk Steel and Hyundai Steel, however, declined by 0.49 percent and 1.53 percent, respectively.

In Greater China, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was 0.27 percent lower at 3:15 p.m. HK/SIN, while mainland China's closed 0.46 percent down.

China said Tuesday it will merge its banking and insurance regulators to streamline and tighten oversight of the financial system.

Chinese banks rallied, with Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) surging close to 5 percent in Hong Kong and 2.48 percent in China. ABC, the third-largest bank in China and globally, announced on Monday it would raise as much as 100 billion yuan ($15.8 billion) in a private placement. China's Ministry of Finance would be one of its backers.

US inflation data due

Wall Street indices ended mostly lower on Monday.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed 157.13 points lower, the S&P 500 slipped 0.1 percent, but the Nasdaq composite bucked the trend to close 0.4 percent higher, boosted by tech giants Apple and Amazon.

In Europe, the STOXX 600 closed up 0.25 percent provisionally, with utilities holding the top spot in sectoral gains following news that RWE will sell 76.8 percent of its Innogy arm to rival E.On.

Investors now turn their attention to U.S. consumer price data due later on Tuesday stateside for a gauge of how the Federal Reserve would manage its policy going forward.

Economists in a Reuters poll projected an annual core consumer price inflation of 1.8 percent, flat from January.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of major currencies, lost some ground before trading 0.14 percent higher at around 90.018 at 3:18 p.m. HK/SIN.

— CNBC's Nyshka Chandran contributed to this report.