Asia stocks mixed as investors await US midterm elections

  • Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index recovered from earlier losses to see gains in afternoon trade.
  • The mainland Chinese markets, however, saw losses on the day.
  • Stocks in Japan, South Korea and Australia, on the other hand, largely posted gains.
  • The U.S. midterm elections, which could send ripples through capital markets depending on the results, are set for later in the day.

Asian stocks were mixed on Tuesday as investors looked to the U.S. midterm elections set for later in the day.

Mainland China markets ended the trading day lower, with the Shanghai composite sliding 0.23 percent to close at around 2,659.36 and the Shenzhen composite declining 0.356 percent to about 1,346.19.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index, meanwhile, recovered from its earlier losses to see gains of 0.79 percent in afternoon trade.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose by 1.14 percent to close at 22,147.75 and the Topix index saw gains of 1.16 percent to end the trading day at 1,659.35.

Shares of conglomerate Softbank dropped 1.97 percent for the trading day despite earlier reporting a profit surge for the second quarter of 2018 helped by higher valuations on high-tech bets. The conglomerate's CEO, Masayoshi Son, said on Monday that "there may be some impact" on its Saudi-backed Vision Fund following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

The Japanese tech investment giant has poured billions into start-ups in Silicon Valley and around the world through this investment fund.

In Australia, the ASX 200 was 0.98 percent higher to close at 5,875.2, with most sectors seeing gains. The energy and materials sectors were up 1.55 and 1.66 percent, respectively, as the heavily weighted financial subindex advanced 0.84 percent.

The moves Down Under came after the Reserve Bank of Australia announced its decision to keep the cash rate unchanged at 1.5 percent.

"The low level of interest rates is continuing to support the Australian economy. Further progress in reducing unemployment and having inflation return to target is expected, although this progress is likely to be gradual," the central bank's governor, Philip Lowe, said in a media release.

The move was widely anticipated by market observers, with Rakuten Securities Australia saying in a morning note that "local investors looking to make money today will probably be (focusing) more on the Melbourne Cup."

Meanwhile, South Korea's Kospi saw a gain of 0.61 percent to close at 2,089.62.

Apple suppliers in Taiwan under pressure

Stocks of major Apple suppliers in Taiwan widely fell on the day. That appeared to be on the back of a report that the Cupertino-based tech giant had put on hold a plan to boost production of its iPhone XR.

Shares of chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor slipped 0.21 percent while major assemblers Pegatron and Hon Hai — also known as Foxconn — fell 4.6 and 3.38 percent, respectively.

Catcher Technology, a supplier of light-metal casings and enclosures for mobile devices, plunged 7.93 percent on Wednesday despite reporting a surge in quarterly revenue on Tuesday. Meanwhile, lens maker Largan Precision also dropped by 6.26 percent.

Beyond the possible implications of the XR production report, one analyst also told CNBC last Friday that Apple's Taiwanese suppliers are likely to be more affected by the company's change in pricing strategy.

"Apple is pivoting towards generating higher revenues per iPhone with higher (average selling prices) and attaching more services (like Apple Music) to each device, instead of relying on pure shipments growth, so suppliers which are heavily dependent on Apple selling more devices – like Taiwanese suppliers – will suffer," said Leo Sun, a tech and consumer goods specialist at The Motley Fool.

Apple shares slipped about 2.84 percent in the Monday trading session stateside.

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US midterm elections on Tuesday

Overnight on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 190.87 points to close at 25,461.70 while the S&P 500 advanced 0.6 percent to 2,738.31. The Nasdaq Composite, however, bucked the positive trend to slip 0.4 percent to 7,328.85 by the closing bell.

The stock moves stateside came ahead of the U.S. midterm elections that are scheduled for Tuesday, which could send ripples throughout capital markets.

Democrats are expected to regain control of the House while Republicans hold on to a slim majority in the Senate. This outcome is largely seen as positive for markets since, historically, U.S. stocks have posted solid gains during government gridlock.

If the GOP maintains a majority in both chambers, it could give stocks a short-term boost as it increases the likelihood of further tax cuts. Meanwhile, a so-called Democratic sweep could pressure stocks as it could lead to a reversal of some of the policies passed by the GOP to boost the economy in the near term.

The Democrats were leading with a 7 point advantage ahead of the contest, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday.

"We think the biggest reaction would be if the Republicans retained control of both the House and Senate. If so, we can look forward to Trump going harder on trade, looser — still fiscal policy and even more vociferous attacks on the Fed. This is a likely initially (U.S. dollar) positive and hence an (Australian dollar) negative outcome," Rodrigo Catril, a senior foreign exchange strategist at National Australia Bank, said in a morning note.

Meanwhile, some analysts are keeping an eye on the ongoing U.S.-China trade war with low expectations for any progress at the anticipated meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping scheduled for the end of November.

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.334 after seeing highs above 96.6 yesterday.

"Historically, these elections do not have a significant or lasting impact on the dollar or the financial markets but this year, given the controversy surrounding this Administration, we could see a meaningful reaction," Kathy Lien, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management, said in a note, in reference to the upcoming U.S. midterms.

"The most bearish scenario for the dollar would be if the Democrats win both the House and Senate, in which case, we should see a very aggressive slide in the USD that takes EUR/USD to 1.15 and USD/JPY to 112," Lien said.

The Euro was at $1.1409 in the afternoon of Asian trade. The Japanese yen was at 113.42 against the dollar following an earlier high around the 113 handle while the Australian dollar traded at $0.7216 after rising from levels above $0.718 yesterday.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert and Ryan Browne, along with Reuters, contributed to this report.