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Australia, Japan trade higher as RBA leaves its cash rate on hold

  • Many Asian markets are closed on Tuesday for a public holiday.
  • Markets in Australia and Japan traded mostly higher, following declines in U.S. stocks after a pullback in the telecommunications sector.
  • The dollar index held above the 91 level.
  • Australia's central bank left its monetary policy on hold and predicted growth in the Australian economy to pick up and average above 3 percent in 2018 and 2019.

Markets in Australia and Japan traded mostly higher on Tuesday while many Asian markets were shut for a public holiday.

The session in Asia followed a decline in U.S. stocks amid a pullback in the telecommunications sector.

Australia's ASX 200 rose 32.5 points, or 0.54 percent, to 6,015.20, with the heavily weighted financial sector gaining 1.37 percent. Major banking names gained more than 1 percent each.

Shares of ANZ rose 2.35 percent, Commonwealth Bank was up 1.88 percent, Westpac increased by 1.43 percent and the National Australia Bank added 1.73 percent.

ANZ reported a rise in first-half profits that beat market expectations. The bank said its cash profit from continuing operations rose 4 percent to 3.49 billion Australian dollars for the six months to Mar. 31, compared to analysts' predictions of A$3.46 billion, Reuters reported. That was helped by a fall in bad debt charges and lower costs, according to the news wire.

The energy sector was up 0.3 percent as oil stocks mostly gained. Shares of Santos rose 0.49 percent, Oil Search was up 1.02 percent and Woodside Petroleum added 0.62 percent.

The Reserve Bank of Australia left its cash rate unchanged at 1.5 percent in a widely anticipated move.

In its policy statement, Governor Philip Lowe said the bank predicted growth in the Australian economy to pick up and average above 3 percent in 2018 and 2019. Inflation is expected to pick up gradually and the central forecast for inflation is a bit above 2 percent in 2018.

"Business conditions are positive and non-mining business investment is increasing," Lowe said. "Higher levels of public infrastructure investment are also supporting the economy. Stronger growth in exports is expected."

The statement added that the low level of interest rates have also supported the economy. Still, household income has been growing slowly and debt levels are high, according to the statement.

The Australian dollar traded at $0.7538 as of 2:09 p.m. HK/SIN, declining from levels above $0.7600 in the previous week.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 finished up 40.16 points, or 0.18 percent, at 22,508.03, but the Topix index fell 3.05 points, or 0.17 percent, to 1,774.18.

Meanwhile, the U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, held above the 91 level. It last traded at 91.891 at 2:14 p.m. HK/SIN.

The Japanese yen traded at 109.39 to the dollar and the euro fetched $1.2067.

Oil prices rose overnight amid heightened geopolitical risks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed a cache of files obtained from Iran proves the country ran a secret program to build nuclear weapons.

However, the trove of data did not contain new information that was not known to diplomats who negotiated the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2015. Iran-watchers said the press conference appeared calculated to embolden Trump to scrap the accord.

"Investors were spooked by reports that an Israeli intelligence report suggested Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program," Daniel Hynes, a senior commodity strategist at ANZ, wrote in a morning note. "This comes at a sensitive time, with the U.S. President required to ratify the Iran nuclear deal "

Netanyahu's remarks come less than two weeks before U.S. President Donald Trump must decide whether to continue suspending sanctions against Iran under that deal, or restore the penalties on one of the world's biggest oil producers.

U.S. crude rose on Tuesday during Asian hours, gaining 0.13 percent to $68.66 a barrel at 2:16 p.m. HK/SIN while global benchmark Brent added 0.11 percent to $74.77.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher contributed to this report.