Asia Markets

Asia markets ease as concerns over trade and US politics simmer

Key Points
  • Asian markets closed on Friday, against a backdrop of trade and political developments.
  • Trade was in focus, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the White House was looking to impose tariffs on at least $30 billion of Chinese imports.
  • President Donald Trump has decided to remove his national security advisor, the Washington Post said, but the White House pushed back on that assertion.
  • The greenback slipped against the safe-haven yen amid poorer risk sentiment.

Most Asian markets closed mixed on the last day of the trading week amid a backdrop of global trade-related developments and political news out of Washington.

In Tokyo, the gave up earlier gains to close lower by 0.58 percent, or 127.44 points, at 21,676.51. Despite those losses, the benchmark finished the week up 1 percent. The broader Topix was off by 0.4 percent.

Automakers and technology names were mostly lower, while manufacturing names closed in negative territory, with Fanuc down 1.63 percent.

Meanwhile, in Seoul, the Kospi finished the day higher by 0.06 percent at 2,493.97 as Samsung Electronics pared steeper losses seen earlier to close lower by 0.78 percent. Financials ended higher, while the manufacturing and technology sectors were mixed.

Greater China markets were downbeat, with Hong Kong's lower by 0.44 percent by 3:03 p.m. HK/SIN. China Unicom advanced 1.68 percent ahead of the market close, but those gains were unable to lift the broader index as property names and the energy sector drove losses.

The shed 0.63 percent to end at 3,270.39 and the smaller Shenzhen composite edged down 0.61 percent to close at 1,863.03. The large-cap CSI 300 index fell 0.96 percent, with technology, consumer and materials among the worst-performing sectors.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 tacked on 0.48 percent to close at 5,949.40, with all sectors gaining except financials and gold producers.

Gains were led by the telecommunications sector and the consumer staples subindex, which popped 2.63 percent. Those gains came as Wesfarmers jumped 6.31 percent following news it would be spinning off its Coles supermarket business.

Meanwhile, MSCI's broad index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan was off by 0.16 percent by 3:11 p.m. HK/SIN.

Worries over US trade, politics

Trade-related developments were once again in focus, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the Trump administration was looking to impose tariffs on at least $30 billion of imports from China. Reuters on Tuesday said the figure could be around $60 billion.

Some investors are concerned that tariffs could result in retaliatory actions taken by U.S. trading partners, which could in turn lead to a trade war that dents growth.

Despite that, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro on Thursday told CNBC that the U.S. could implement tariffs on imports without causing a trade war.

Political developments were also in focus after the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump has decided to remove national security advisor H.R. McMaster from the administration. The White House pushed back on that assertion, however.

U.S. stocks were pressured in the overnight session by news that special counsel Robert Mueller had subpoenaed Trump's businesses.

The dollar slipped against the safe-haven yen on poorer risk sentiment. The greenback traded at 105.88 by 2:42 p.m. HK/SIN after touching as high as 106.38 earlier in the session.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of rivals, pared some of its overnight gains to trade at 90.015.

Some analysts attributed the dollar's move higher in the last session to comments from Larry Kudlow, the incoming top White House economic advisor, on Wednesday. Kudlow had told CNBC he favored a stronger dollar. (Larry Kudlow has been a long-time contributor to CNBC.)

Moves in the currency also come ahead of the Federal Reserve's meeting next week.

In corporate news, Samsung's latest Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphone models will be available in several markets on Friday after their initial launch in February.

Meanwhile, shares of Leshi Internet and Information Technology plunged by the daily limit of 10 percent after its chairman left the company. Leshi, the listed unit of embattled tech company LeEco, is down around 60 percent this year.

Also of note, Alibaba Group, currently listed in New York, is looking to list in China, according to the Wall Street Journal. The e-commerce giant told CNBC it would consider a listing on the mainland if regulation allowed for it.

Chinese depository receipts could be introduced in China "very soon," Reuters reported, citing state-run financial newspaper Shanghai Securities News. The CDRs would give mainland investors a path to some companies listed outside China, Reuters said.

Disclosure: Larry Kudlow has been a long-time contributor to CNBC.

— CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.