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Asian stocks mostly gain as trade and geopolitical worries ebb

  • Asian stocks closed mostly higher after President Donald Trump clarified in a tweet that a possible U.S. missile strike on Syria might not be imminent.
  • Recent trade-related fears also waned.
  • The dollar extended overnight gains against the yen amid improved investor confidence.
  • Oil prices slipped slightly.

Asian shares closed mostly higher on Friday, with investor confidence improving amid a de-escalation in recent trade and geopolitical tensions.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.55 percent, or 118.46 points, to close at 21,778.74, but was off an intraday high of 21,778.74 earlier. The broader Topix advanced 0.63 percent, with financial and materials stocks climbing amid the weaker yen.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Kospi edged up by 0.51 percent to end at 2,455.07. Cosmetics names finished the day with significant gains, with Amorepacific closing up 3.55 percent, while technology had a mixed session.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
---
HSI
---
ASX 200
---
SHANGHAI
---
KOSPI
---
CNBC 100
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The positive sentiment was also seen in Australia. The S&P/ASX 200 firmed 0.23 percent to end at 5,829.10.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index drifted slightly higher by at 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN. The index was up 0.11 percent before the market close. Mainland markets finished the day lower: The Shanghai composite eased 0.65 percent to end at 3,159.39 and the Shenzhen composite shed 0.32 percent to close at 1,834.38.

Investors also digested trade data out of China, which showed March exports in dollar terms declined 2.7 percent on year, missing expectations. Imports in dollar terms rose 14.4 percent, topping the 10 percent rise projected in a Reuters poll. A rare trade deficit of $4.98 billion was posted for the month, Reuters reported.

MSCI's broad index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan, meanwhile, held onto gains, last trading higher by 0.14 percent.

The overall improvement in investor confidence came after President Donald Trump's Thursday tweet on Syria, as well as a de-escalation in recent trade tensions.

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" Trump said in a tweet on Thursday. A Twitter post from the president on Wednesday taunting Russia on Syria saw stock markets decline earlier this week amid concerns over heightened geopolitical tensions.

"Market sentiment remains at the mercy of political rhetoric and ... the theme from the overnight session is that there are encouraging signs of an ease in tensions in Syria along with improved prospects for resolutions in trade tensions," Rodrigo Catril, senior foreign exchange strategist at National Australia Bank, said in a note.

Of note, Trump asked his advisors to consider rejoining a major Trans-Pacific trade deal after first pulling out of the agreement last year. Following the U.S. withdrawal, the remaining 11 countries have since signed the trade agreement earlier this year.

He later said in another tweet that he would only re-enter the agreement if it was "substantially better" than what was offered to former U.S. president Barack Obama.

The latest trade-related development comes after recent trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Newly imposed and proposed tariffs from both countries had caused jitters in global stock markets in recent weeks.

Earnings season also kicked off stateside, with Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase among the major banking names reporting on Friday U.S. hours. S&P 500 earnings are forecast to have grown 17.1 percent in the first quarter, according to FactSet.

Firmer dollar 

Improved risk appetite saw the dollar extend gains made overnight against the yen. The greenback traded at 107.53 at 2:34 p.m. HK/SIN. The dollar held steady after its Thursday advance against the Swiss franc, which is also regarded as a safe haven during times of instability, to last trade at $0.9632.

The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against six peers, was slightly firmer at 89.800.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority bought the territory's currency after the Hong Kong dollar touched the weak end of an allowed range. The Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar.

On the commodities front, oil prices slipped after touching more than three-year highs earlier in the week. U.S. West Texas Intermediate shed 0.22 percent to trade at $66.92 per barrel and Brent crude futures shed 0.22 percent to trade at $71.86.

In individual movers, shares of SJM Holdings traded higher by 4.75 percent after rising more than 10 percent after announcing that gambling tycoon Stanley Ho would be retiring as its chairman on June 12. Shares of other Hong Kong-listed casinos mostly traded higher on Friday.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.