Stocks in Asia mixed ahead of US-China talks

  • Shares in major Asian markets closed mixed.
  • Investors will be watching out for developments on the U.S.-China trade front, with high level negotiations set to begin later stateside.
  • Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is set to meet U.S. officials on Wednesday and Thursday, hot on the heels of Washington leveling sweeping charges against Beijing's telecom giant Huawei.

Major stock markets in Asia closed mixed on Wednesday, as investors awaited the start of U.S.-China trade talks later in the day stateside.

The mainland Chinese markets slipped back into negative territory — after an earlier recovery — to end their trading day lower. The Shanghai composite slipped about 0.72 percent to 2,575.58 while the Shenzhen component fell 1.070 percent to 7,470.47. The Shenzhen composite also declined 1.279 percent to 1,283.71.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was higher by about 0.1 percent, as of its final hour of trading, as shares of Chinese tech giant Tencent declined 0.29 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 slipped 0.52 percent to close at 20,556.54 while the Topix fell 0.41 percent to finish its trading day at 1,550.76.

South Korea's Kospi, on the other hand, advanced 1.05 percent to close at 2,206.20 as shares of LG Display dropped 3.66 percent after the company said its panel shipments for the first quarter were expected to decrease due to seasonally weak demand.

Australia's ASX 200 gained 0.21 percent to close at 5,886.70 as the materials subindex rose 2.14 percent, with shares of Australia's major miners gaining. Rio Tinto jumped 4.51 percent, Fortescue Metals Group soared 7.75 percent and BHP Billiton advanced 2.55 percent.

The moves Down Under came after the country's headline consumer price index rose above expectations, though core inflation remained below the central bank's target. Following that, the Australian dollar was at $0.7191 after seeing an earlier low of $0.7147.

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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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US-China trade talks set to begin

Investors are watching out for developments on the U.S.-China trade front, with high level negotiations set to begin later stateside.

"Today could be a crucial day for financial markets with the US-China trade discussions set to open in Washington and then the FOMC delivering it's latest rate announcement and statement." Rakuten Securities Australia said in a note.

"Investors are hoping for a positive outcome from the talks and Steven Mnuchin lifted some players hopes by declaring that 'Everything is on the table' and that the US could lift tariffs on China, however once again the market will be looking for solid progress before a real rally can take place," the note said.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is set to meet U.S. officials on Wednesday and Thursday, hot on the heels of Washington leveling sweeping charges against Beijing's telecommunications giant Huawei.

Market participants fear the jolt to Huawei could undermine the chances of the world's two largest economies reaching a comprehensive trade deal.

White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Tuesday, however, that President Donald Trump is "moderately optimistic" about China and the U.S. striking a deal before a March 1 deadline.

Ahead of the start of negotiations, Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNBC on Tuesday: "There is a bit more optimism in the air in January, or certainly I feel that anyways."

Cook's comments came after the tech behemoth reported earnings which were largely in line with expectations.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve is set to announce its monetary policy decision following a two day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. Market expectations for a rate hike being announced Wednesday afternoon stateside are close to zero, according to the CME Group's FedWatch tool.

ANZ Research's Richard Yetsenga said in a morning note: "It is clear that there is a long road ahead to achieving meaningful progress between the two countries and while steps forward are possible, this week is unlikely to bring the certainty markets are looking for."

"Trade uncertainty is playing a role in the Fed's decision to pause interest rate rises for the moment. We expect the Fed to confirm an interim pause at its meeting tomorrow," he added.

Currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 95.818 after seeing lows around 95.6 yesterday. The Japanese yen, viewed as a safe-haven currency, traded at 109.29 against the dollar after seeing an earlier low of 109.44.

Oil prices shed their earlier gains in the afternoon of Asian trading hours. International benchmark Brent crude futures and U.S. crude futures both slipped slightly to $61.28 per barrel and $53.28 per barrel, respectively.

— Reuters and CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.