Asia Markets

Asian stocks close mixed, with investors cautious ahead of expected Fed rate hike

Key Points
  • Asian markets closed mixed Wednesday, with some markets giving up significant early gains to finish lower.
  • The Fed kicked off its two-day meeting on Tuesday and is expected to raise rates for the first time this year at the end of its meeting.
  • The dollar pared some of its overnight gains ahead of the Fed's rates announcement expected Wednesday U.S. time.

Asian stocks closed mixed on Wednesday, with some markets giving up significant early gains and finishing the day lower. Investors focused on the Federal Reserve after it kicked off its March meeting in the previous session.

Seoul's Kospi closed little changed after hovering slightly above the flat line earlier in the day. The benchmark shed 0.02 percent to close at 2,484.97 and the junior Kosdaq gave up early gains to slip 0.54 percent.

South Korea's "Big Three" shipbuilders closed mixed, with Hyundai Heavy Industries advancing 3.75 percent. Among major sectors, automakers and technology names were a mixed bag.

Hong Kong's was flat at 3:12 p.m. HK/SIN, paring its more than 1 percent gain seen earlier in the day. Energy and property names led gains an hour ahead of the market close, but technology names slipped into negative territory.

Shares of index heavyweight Tencent were up 0.09 percent by 3:04 p.m. HK/SIN ahead of its earnings release later in the day.

Mainland markets reversed early gains to close lower. The eased 0.27 percent to end at 3,281.59 and the smaller Shenzhen composite slid 0.73 percent to close at 1,858.61.

Over in Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 drifted higher by 0.23 percent to close at 5.950.30. Energy stocks rose 1.17 percent as oil prices held onto gains after surging to their highest levels in three weeks overnight, while telecommunication and utilities stocks declined.

Markets in Japan were closed on Wednesday for the vernal equinox.

Fed meeting kicks off

The Fed is widely expected to raise interest rates for the first time this year on Wednesday U.S. time. The probability of a 25 basis point rate hike in March stood at 94.4 percent, according to the CME Group's FedWatch tool on Wednesday morning.

Markets are also watching the meeting for clues about whether the central bank potentially intends to raise rates more than three times this year.

"Expectations are skewed towards a more upbeat outlook for growth, employment and possibly inflation, whilst there has been a rise in market opinion that the FOMC may raise rates four times this year. We do not expect the Fed to shift its outlook aggressively," ANZ Research analysts wrote in a note.

Also in the mix were concerns over the Trump administration's protectionist slant.

"[N]ews that the Trump administration is planning further trade sanctions against China may continue to weigh on market sentiments in the near term," OCBC Bank analysts said in a note.

Gains stateside in the previous session came after U.S. stocks pulled back at the beginning of the week as a fall in Facebook shares dragged on the tech sector. Regulators are looking into whether the social media giant potentially violated a consent decree following reports that data of 50 million Facebook users was accessed by Cambridge Analytica.

Meanwhile, in corporate news, Geely Automobile Holdings fell 5.09 percent by 2:47 p.m. HK/SIN despite earlier reporting a 108 percent jump in net profit for 2017.

Shares of Ping An Insurance fell 1.53 percent in Hong Kong by 2:50 p.m. HK/SIN after the company on Tuesday announced annual net profit rose 42.8 percent, topping an average Thomson Reuters forecast.

Elsewhere, dairy company Fonterra said Wednesday that its CEO, Theo Spierings, would leave the role later in the year. The New Zealand-listed company, which is the largest dairy exporter in the world, announced earlier in the day that it had recorded a net loss in the six months ending Jan. 31.

In Australia, James Packer has stepped down as director from the board of Crown Resorts due to personal reasons, the casino operator said in a release on Wednesday. Crown shares closed down 0.92 percent.

In currencies, the dollar pared some of its overnight gains as markets awaited the Fed. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against six rivals, traded at 90.240 by 2:44 p.m. HK/SIN. The index touched a three-week high in the last session.

The U.S. currency traded at 106.40 against the yen after firming in the overnight session. Meanwhile, the Australian dollar traded at $0.7702 after trading below the $0.77 handle earlier in the session.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong dollar traded at $7.8452 to the dollar by 2:45 p.m. HK/SIN after earlier dropping a 33-year low.