Asia Markets

Japan lags peers as Asian shares close mixed before Fed meeting

Key Points
  • Asian markets closed mixed on Monday.
  • Japanese markets declined as the yen firmed and amid an ongoing political scandal.
  • Markets were focused on the upcoming Federal Open Market Committee meeting later this week.
  • Share of display makers declined following a Bloomberg report that Apple was producing its own screens.

Asian markets closed mixed on Monday, with Japan's benchmark index underperforming regional peers as investors also turned their attention to the Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting later in the week.

Japan's recorded steeper losses as the session wore on, with the index declining 0.9 percent, or 195.61 points, to close at 21,480.90. The broader Topix fell 0.96 percent, with all but one of its 33 sectors closing with losses.

Investor sentiment took a hit on the back of an ongoing political scandal involving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the sale of state-owned land. The yen, regarded as a safe haven currency, firmed to trade at 105.73 to the dollar by 3:05 p.m. HK/SIN.

Major exporters, including technology and automaker names, as well as financials ended in negative territory, although some manufacturing names clung to gains.

Meanwhile, South Korea's benchmark Kospi index slid 0.76 percent to end at 2,475.03. Automakers were sharply lower while steelmakers logged slight gains. Hyundai Motor fell 3.81 percent and Posco rose 0.29 percent.

Market sentiment in greater China markets told a different story, with the edging up by 0.16 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN as declines in property developers were offset by gains in financials.

The tacked on 0.3 percent to finish at 3,279.60 and the Shenzhen composite added 0.27 percent to close at 1,868.05. The start-up ChiNext board rose 1.2 percent, besting the 0.44 percent gain seen on the large cap CSI 300 index, with health care stocks leading the move higher.

Meanwhile, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 got off to a positive start to the week, with the index advancing 0.17 percent to close at 5,959.40. Energy stocks rose 1.65 percent, leading gains on the day after the rise in oil prices in the last session.

MSCI's broad index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan traded lower by 0.36 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN.

Markets in the region had closed mixed in the last session on the back of trade concerns and White House personnel-related developments out of Washington.

Fed meeting ahead

Ahead, markets will focus on the two-day Federal Open Market Committee monetary policy meeting later in the week. The central bank is expected to raise interest rates and investors are keen on getting more clarity on the number of rate hikes expected this year.

The meeting will also mark new Fed Chair Jerome Powell's first press conference.

"It is not a bold forecast to argue that there will be a hawkish undertone from the meeting," Michelle Meyer, U.S. economist at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, said in a report.

"However, our more nuanced view is that while the Fed will take steps in the hawkish direction, they will be baby steps rather than moving in leaps and bounds."

Stocks stateside edged slightly higher on Friday, but still recorded a loss last week. The Dow and S&P 500 declined 1.5 percent and 1.2 percent on the week, respectively.

Of note, economist Yi Gang was nominated to take over the helm at the People's Bank of China from current governor Zhou Xiaochuan, parliament delegates told Reuters on Monday.

The move was seen as a sign of continuity with the central bank's policy.

"Yi Gang, as a key architect of financial and foreign exchange reforms, is expected to follow up on yuan internationalization, as well as further open up China's capital and financial markets in [the] coming years," Vixhnu Varathan, Mizuho Bank head of economics and strategy, wrote in a note.

Among individual movers, shares of property developer CK Asset Holdings were off by 0.64 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN after tumbling more than 3 percent earlier after Li Ka Shing said he would step down as its chairman in May. Conglomerate CK Hutchison Holdings declined 1.77 percent ahead of the market close.

Shares of several display makers in the region also fell following a Bloomberg report that Apple was producing its own screens for the first time. Samsung Electronics closed lower by 0.78 percent, while Japanese names saw sharper falls, with Japan Display down 2.42 percent.