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Major Asia markets close higher; Chinese yuan jumps

Key Points
  • Major Asian stock markets mostly closed higher.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that trade talks with China are going well, adding the current March deadline is not a "magical date."
  • Also on Tuesday, a report said the U.S. is requesting that China keep the yuan stable as part of the trade deal. That sent the offshore Chinese yuan on a path of strong gains.

Major Asian stocks markets mostly closed higher on Wednesday, after U.S. President Donald Trump hinted once again that a closely watched trade deadline in March may be pushed back.

Mainland Chinese markets closed higher on the day after a whirlwind session which saw it swinging between positive and negative territory. The Shanghai composite gained around 0.2 percent to close at 2,761.22 while the Shenzhen component rose 0.386 percent to 8,473.43. The Shenzhen composite also advanced 0.321 percent to close at 1,448.24.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rose about 0.9 percent in its final hour of trading. Hong Kong-listed shares of Chinese investment bank China International Capital Corp jumped 5.79 percent after an exchange disclosure showed on Monday that tech behemoth Alibaba had increased its stake in the company to almost 12 percent.

Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 0.6 percent to close at 21,431.49 while the Topix gained 0.43 percent to end its trading day at 1,613.47 as shares of robot maker Fanuc advanced 0.31 percent. Over in South Korea, the Kospi added 1.09 percent to close at 2,229.76.

The ASX 200 in Australia, however, slipped 0.17 percent to close at 6,096.50.

Asia-Pacific Market Indexes Chart

Trump said Tuesday that trade talks with China are going well, adding the current March deadline is not a "magical date." Both countries have until then to come up with a deal. Otherwise, additional U.S. tariffs on Chinese products could take effect. Trump indicated last week, however, he would be willing to push back the deadline.

"If we do have that deadline pushed out, it at least allows the two parties to reach a sort of framework for agreeing something around those more structural, difficult long-term issues," Isaac Poole, chief investment officer at Oreana Financial Services, told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Wednesday.

An agreement between the U.S. and China around issues such as the trade deficit and currency stabilization are the "easiest" parts for the two parties to achieve, Poole said.

"Things like intellectual property transfer and those longer term structural issues, they're going to take longer than 60 days. They're going to take longer than 90 days to reach an agreement," he added.

Chinese yuan moves

Also on Tuesday, Bloomberg News reported that the U.S. is requesting that China keep the yuan stable as part of the trade deal.

The move would be aimed at mediating any effort by the Chinese to devalue the yuan to counter American tariffs, people familiar with the situation told Bloomberg News. The Trump administration has insisted that moves to devalue the yuan to buoy Chinese exports would be countered with additional or more severe American tariffs, sources told Bloomberg News.

The offshore Chinese yuan saw strong gains on the back of the report. It last traded at 6.7275 against the greenback, after seeing levels above 6.78 yesterday. The onshore Chinese yuan also gained to 6.7244 against the dollar.

"We are not surprised the US government has made such a request. But the request flies in the face of another US demand for a more market‑driven (offshore Chinese yuan)," Joseph Capurso, senior currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said in a morning note.

"As we have spelled out frequently, the fundamentals are pushing (the offshore Chinese yuan) weaker, not stronger. China's current account surplus has collapsed to only 0.4% of GDP in 2018 and interest rate spreads have narrowed," Capurso said.

The Australian dollar was at $0.7163 after bouncing from lows below $0.712 yesterday.

"Unsurprisingly, what is good for (the offshore Chinese yuan) is also good for (the Australian dollar) given the strong trade links between China and Australia," Capurso said.

Copper prices gain

Copper prices advanced to their highest levels since Jul. 2018. The metal's futures for March delivery rose to $2.8855 per pound as of 2:08 a.m. ET Wednesday, its highest level since early July 2018.

Copper is often viewed as a leading indicator of economic health because of its widespread use in various sectors. It is used in home construction and consumer products, as well as manufacturing.

Other currencies and oil

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.587 after seeing highs around 97 yesterday. The Japanese yen traded at 110.90 against the dollar after seeing an earlier high of 110.51.

Oil prices were mixed in the afternoon of Asian trade. The international benchmark Brent crude futures contract slipped 0.12 percent to $66.37 per barrel. Meanwhile, the U.S. crude futures contract advanced 0.12 percent to $56.16 per barrel.

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