Asia markets struggle for gains despite strong US earnings; China concerns linger

  • Asia Pacific shares traded mixed on Thursday, despite strong quarterly earnings in the U.S. and after the U.K. government won a parliamentary confidence vote. Worries over China likely weighed on market sentiment.
  • On Wednesday, China's central bank pumped 560 billion yuan ($83 billion) into its banking system, which was a record amount of money injected in one day.
  • Analysts said the move eased potential concerns of a funding squeeze in the Chinese economy ahead of a major festive season.
  • Elsewhere, the U.K. government led by Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of no-confidence in parliament as it tries to cobble together a plan for Britain's pending departure from the European Union.
People are reflected in a glass while looking at electronic boards displaying stock information at the Australian Securities Exchange.
Brendon Thorne | Bloomberg | Getty Images
People are reflected in a glass while looking at electronic boards displaying stock information at the Australian Securities Exchange.

Asia Pacific shares traded mixed on Thursday, despite strong quarterly earnings in the U.S. and after the U.K. government won a parliamentary confidence vote. Worries over China likely weighed on market sentiment.

Japan's Nikkei 225 erased early gains of near 0.3 percent to close down 40.48 points, or 0.2 percent, at 20,402.27 while the Topix index added 5.43 points, or 0.35 percent, to 1,543.2.

The yen, considered a safe-haven asset, strengthened against the dollar, trading at 108.85 at 3:03 p.m. HK/SIN, climbing from an earlier session low of 109.12.

In South Korea, the Kospi also gave up early advances to close near flat. Australia's benchmark ASX 200 rose 14.9 points, or 0.26 percent, to 5,850.1.

Markets in the Greater China region were mostly down: Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell about 0.5 percent in late-afternoon trade. On the Chinese mainland, the Shanghai composite index fell 0.42 percent while the Shenzhen composite and Shenzhen component indices declined around 0.9 percent each.

The on-shore yuan traded at 6.7644 to the dollar. Prior to the market open, China's central bank set the yuan mid-point at 6.7592. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) allows the exchange rate to rise or fall 2 percent from the official mid-point rate it sets daily.

Concerns over China remain

On Wednesday, the PBOC pumped 560 billion yuan ($83 billion) into its banking system, which was a record amount of money injected in one day. In a statement on its website, the central bank said because it was the "peak of the tax period," total liquidity of the banking system is "declining rather quickly."

Liquidity refers to the ease with which assets can be converted into cash.

The move "alleviated concerns of a potential funding squeeze ahead of the Chinese New Year festive period," analysts at Singapore's OCBC Bank said in a morning note.

Market sentiment has weighed in recent months over worries that the world's second-largest economy is slowing down while Beijing remains entangled in a trade spat with Washington. For its part, the Chinese government has introduced a spate of measures to prop up the economy.

Participants in the market want to "see the reaction from the Chinese government, kind of acknowledging that there's a slowdown, there's risk — not only from the trade situation that we're dealing with, but also from the deleveraging," Daniel Morris, a senior investment strategist at BNP Paribas Asset Management, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

Morris pointed to Beijing's efforts to reduce debt in the economy as well as the size of China's shadow banking system. That, he said, inevitably had a negative impact on growth and the government is now trying to offset that.

"So, it's a bit of a balance for them. On one hand, if you're deleveraging, that's negative for growth. But then we have to try to compensate for that with interest rate cuts and spending elsewhere," he said, adding that he was reasonably confident in Beijing's ability to manage the situation, given that some of trade concerns and drag from tariffs ultimately goes away.

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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May survives vote of no-confidence

The U.K. government led by Prime Minister Theresa May surviveda vote of no-confidence on Wednesday. It took place one day after May's plan on how Britain should exit the European Union was overwhelmingly voted down in the House of Commons.

The British pound traded around $1.2877 Thursday afternoon during Asian hours, reacting fractionally to the outcome of the no-confidence vote.

May faces the task of cobbling together a Brexit deal that will satisfy both lawmakers in Europe and the U.K. as well as delivering on the 2016 referendum result. But some have suggested that a second referendum vote on the decision to leave the European Union could likely happen.

"If a second referendum is called, we believe (the pound) will begin to appreciate because the YouGov polls indicate a majority of those surveyed leaning towards remaining in the EU," Richard Grace, chief currency strategist and head of international economics at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, wrote in a morning note. "While this was the case in mid 2016 ahead of the initial referendum, there is now a better understanding by the public of the ramifications of each of the options."

Overnight on Wall Street, stocks rose as investors cheered strong quarterly earnings from major banks like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. In its latest report on the economy, the U.S. Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that labor markets have tightened across the country as businesses struggled to find workers at any skill level while wages grew moderately.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of its peers, changed hands at 96.144 at 3:06 p.m. HK/SIN. Meanwhile the Australian dollar traded at $0.7157 and the euro was at $1.1392.

— CNBC's David Reid contributed to this report.