Shares in Asia little changed as investors grapple with dovish Fed

  • Stocks in Asia treaded water on Friday.
  • In overnight market action stateside, stocks advanced as investors continued to grapple with the potential implications of a recent U.S. Federal Reserve policy statement.

Major Asian stock markets closed little changed on Friday following a roller-coaster session that sent shares oscillating between positive and negative territory as investors grappled with the consequences of a more dovish U.S. Federal Reserve.

The mainland Chinese markets, saw gains on the day as the Shanghai composite rose slightly to about 3,104.15 and the Shenzhen component saw fractional gains to approximately 9,879.22. The Shenzhen composite gained 0.203 percent to around 1,700.94.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed about 0.14 percent higher at 29,113.36, with shares of Chinese tech giant Tencent rising 0.55 percent despite the company reporting its slowest annual profit growth in 13 years.

The broad MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was 0.22 percent higher at 531.26, as of 4:03 p.m. HK/SIN.

Japan's Nikkei 225 closed slightly higher at 21,627.34, as shares of index heavyweights Softbank Group and Fanuc jumped 2.73 percent and 1.40 percent, respectively. The Topix index ended its trading day higher by 0.17 percent at 1,617.11.

The moves in Tokyo came after government data showed Japan's annual core consumer inflation slowed in February, leaving its central bank in a bind.

The nationwide core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food costs, rose 0.7 percent in February from a year earlier, government data showed on Friday, falling short of a median market forecast for a 0.8 percent gain.

The slowdown from January's 0.8 percent increase was due largely to a 1.3 percent drop in gasoline prices, which was the first year-on-year decline since November 2016, the data showed.

The Bank of Japan has battled low inflation rates for years, with its target rate of 2 percent remaining ever elusive despite attempts to accelerate price growth.

Over in South Korea, the Kospi closed marginally higher at 2,186.95. Shares of tech heavyweight Samsung Electronics and chipmaker SK Hynix saw their stock rise 1.53 percent and 0.26 percent, respectively, maintaining their Thursday momentum. That followed an overnight jump in Micron shares stateside after the company signaled that a recovery in the memory chip sector may be coming later in the year.

Meanwhile, shares in Australia gained as the ASX 200 advanced 0.45 percent to close at 6,195.20, with most of the sectors higher.

"It certainly feels like markets will need a few more days and sessions to interpret the recent change in Fed positioning and to absorb the further developments with regard to trade and geo-political factors," analysts at Rakuten Securities Australia said in a note.

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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Tech and Fed drive Wall Street gains

In overnight market action stateside, the major stock indexes advanced on the day, driven by gains in the technology sector and the latest policy statement from the Fed.

On Wednesday, the Fed said it does not expect to raise rates at all in 2019. The central bank had forecast at least two rate hikes for this year back in December. The Fed added that it expects to end its balance-sheet reduction process by the end of September.

"Markets have continued to digest the implications of a dovish Fed that looks set to leave the Fed Funds rate unchanged this year and potentially next. Tech shares have led the gains in equities, although financials have continued to struggle," Rodrigo Catril, a senior foreign exchange strategist at National Australia Bank, said in a morning note.

Treasury yields fell sharply on Wednesday, with the benchmark 10-year rate hitting its lowest level in a year. The yield traded at 2.53 percent on Thursday while the short-term 2-year rate held at 2.41 percent. Yields move inversely to prices.

The U.S. central bank did, however, lower its economic growth forecast for 2019, raising concerns over a possible slowdown in the economy.

US dollar pares gains

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.226, slipping from earlier levels but still off lows below 96.0 seen yesterday.

The Japanese yen traded at 110.75 against the dollar after touching highs below 110.5 in the previous session, while the Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7113 after slipping from highs above $0.716 yesterday.

Oil prices were largely unchanged in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with the international Brent crude futures contract at $67.86 per barrel and U.S. crude futures at $59.97 per barrel.

— CNBC's Fred Imbert contributed to this report.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed about 0.14 percent higher at 29,113.36.