Asia Markets

Asian shares decline on lingering trade concerns as China slumps

Key Points
  • Asian shares closed lower on Wednesday, shrugging off Wall Street's slight gains.
  • Mainland markets slumped amid concerns related to trade, with the Shanghai composite in bear market territory. 
  • Oil prices firmed after the U.S. State Department said companies would be subject to sanctions if they did not completely halt imports of Iranian oil by November.

Asian stocks closed lower on Wednesday, led by the drop in China markets as investors digested the yuan's extended move lower amid trade worries as oil prices rose.

The slipped 0.31 percent, or 70.23 points, to close at 22,271.77, with banks and automakers in negative territory. Energy sector stocks, however, rose following the boost in oil prices, but shippers and air transport names declined.

In Seoul, the Kospi closed lower by 0.38 percent at 2,342.03 as gains in blue chip technology stocks failed to buoy the broader index amid declines in other sectors, including automakers and manufacturing names. Index heavyweight Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix jumped 2.02 percent and 1.07 percent, respectively, while Posco dropped 3.22 percent.

Elsewhere, markets in China slumped. The  fell 1.11 percent to close at 2,812.87 and the smaller Shenzhen composite lost 1.29 percent. The benchmark Shanghai index began the day already in bear market territory, referring to a drop of at least 20 percent from recent highs. The blue-chip CSI 300, meanwhile, tumbled 2.05 percent on the day.

Hong Kong's gave up slight gains seen earlier in the day to decline 1.04 percent by 3:02 p.m. HK/SIN as all sectors but energy declined before the market close.

In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 was little changed, with the index closing lower by 0.03 percent at 6,195.90. The energy sector subindex rose 1.24 percent as oil producers gained, with Woodside Petroleum adding 1.39 percent and Santos advancing 2.17 percent. Still, overall gains were capped as banks and telecommunications stocks slipped.

MSCI's index of shares in Asia Pacific outside of Japan was lower by 0.67 percent in Asia afternoon trade.

Trade worries simmer, oil advances

The declines in the Asian trading session came despite slim gains on Wall Street, with the move higher in energy shares contributing to gains there. Earlier, stocks stateside had slumped on Monday amid anticipation of further trade measures from the Trump administration against China, although messages from the White House have been conflicting.

"We continue to go in circles on trade policy," said Alex Wolf, senior emerging markets economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments. "[T]he question vexing markets is whether or not this is brinksmanship and can be negotiated, or part of a longer-term strategy aimed at restructuring the U.S.-China economic relationship. The answer, while crucial, is not clear," he said in a note.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Monday that a Wall Street Journal report on restrictions on Chinese investment in U.S. technology was "fake news," but added that those measures would apply to "all countries" instead of China alone. Despite that, White House economic advisor Peter Navarro told CNBC that there were "no plans" to curb foreign investments.

Uncertainties over trade policy, as well as an escalation in rhetoric in the U.S. trade spat with China in recent weeks, have weighed on market sentiment in Asian markets.

"In the short run, these negotiations and these threats are definitely having an influence. They're raising volatility and they're causing damage to individual sectors ... What's going to really matter is whether or not the trade measures impact the business cycle. Stock prices are basically a child of the business cycle and as long as the business cycle is expanding, then stock markets should be able to continue to rise," John Greenwood, chief economist at Invesco, told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

The declines in China on Wednesday eclipsed the continued gains in oil after prices jumped overnight. Contributing to oil's gains was the U.S. State Department's announcement that companies purchasing Iranian oil would be subject to sanctions if they did not completely slash those imports by November.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude futures tacked on 0.51 percent to trade at $70.89 per barrel after crossing the $70 level for the first time in two months overnight. Brent crude futures edged up by 0.8 percent to trade at $76.92.

In currencies, the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies, mostly held onto overnight gains to trade at 94.612 at 2:50 p.m. HK/SIN. Trade tensions were contributing to near-term strength in the dollar, according to analysts. Against the yen, the dollar softened to trade at 109.80 after trading around the 110 handle on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the yuan extended its losses to a six-month low on Wednesday. The traded at 6.5930 to the dollar. The People's Bank of China had set the official midpoint at 6.5569 per dollar before the market open. The central bank allows the yuan spot rate to rise and fall a maximum of 2 percent against the dollar relative to the fixing rate.