Asia Markets

Japanese stocks lead decline in Asia amid renewed threat to trade

Key Points
  • Asia stocks slipped on Thursday.
  • Australian jobs data showed the number of net new jobs created was far below expectations.
  • The Bank of Korea announced that it was cutting the base rate by 25 basis points to 1.5%.

Stocks in Japan were the biggest losers among major markets in the region on Thursday, with the other Asian bourses following suit, amid a renewed threat to trade.

The Nikkei 225 dropped 1.97% to close at 21,046.24 as shares of index heavyweights Softbank Group and Fanuc declined 2.41% and 1.97%, respectively. The Topix also fell 2.11% to end its trading day at 1,534.27.

Japan's exports fell 6.7% in June as compared to a year ago, according to data released on Thursday — against expectations of a 5.6% decline from economists in a Reuters poll.

Elsewhere, shares in mainland China also saw losses on the day, with the Shanghai composite declining 1.04% to 2,901.18 and the Shenzhen component down 1.58% to 9,154.65. The Shenzhen composite also fell 1.633% to 1,548.64.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index declined 0.66%, as of its final hours of trading, with shares of Chinese tech giant Tencent dropping 1.49%.

South Korea's Kospi declined 0.31% to close at 2,066.55 as shares of Celltrion dropped 2.17%.

The Bank of Korea announced that it was cutting the base rate by 25 basis points to 1.5%, following a cut to South Korea's growth target earlier this month, and an ongoing trade spat between Seoul and Tokyo that has seen Japan place import curbs on important materials used by South Korea's technology sector.

The Korean won last traded at 1,178.35 against the dollar, following an earlier low of 1,183.52.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.36% to close at 6,649.10. Shares of property firm Lendlease surged 4.75% after the company announced it landed a contract from tech giant Alphabet's Google worth $15 billion in California.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index dipped 0.32%.

Meanwhile, Apple supplier and the world's largest contract chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company on Thursday posted a 7.6% fall in second-quarter net profit. It said its April-June profit was T$66.765 billion ($2.15 billion) — slightly more than the T$65.92 billion average of 21 analyst estimates compiled by Refinitiv.

Australia jobs data

Australian jobs data released on Thursday showed the country's unemployment rate remaining at 5.2% in June. Overall, a net 500 new jobs were created in the month, far off the expected 10,000 figure from economists cited by Reuters.

The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7034, after earlier seeing a low of $0.7003.

The unemployment rate "remains too high," Marcel Thieliant, senior economist at Capital Economics, told CNBC on Thursday. He added that the Reserve Bank of Australia was unlikely to cut interest rates again in August as the jobless figure "didn't increase any further."

Still, he said: "We expect the unemployment rate to creep up over the coming months and that suggests (the Reserve Bank of Australia) will keep cutting interest rates further." The Australian central bank had brought interest rates to a record low in July.

Renewed trade tensions

Stocks stateside closed at their lows of the day just after the Wall Street Journal reported that trade negotiations with China are at an impasse over restrictions on Huawei, citing people familiar with the talks.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said there's still a long way to go before a deal with China can be reached, while threatening to slap tariffs on another $325 billion worth of Chinese goods.

"Donald Trump's renewed trade threats this week undermine relief from the resumption of US-China trade talks agreed to by Presidents Trump and Xi at June's G20 meeting," Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, wrote in a note on Thursday.

"This is a timely reminder that it is too complacent to regard US-China risks as having a short 'half-life', which proportionally declines with progress on bi-lateral trade talks," Varathan said.

Meanwhile, profits posted during the ongoing earnings season stateside were better than expected. More than 7% of S&P 500 companies have reported second-quarter earnings thus far, according to FactSet data. Of those companies, about 85% have posted profits that beat analyst expectations.

Oil and currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 97.119 seeing an earlier high of 97.210.

The Japanese yen, widely viewed as a safe-haven currency, traded at 107.68 against the dollar after strengthening from levels above 108.0 yesterday.

Oil prices slipped in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures just below the flatline at $63.65 per barrel, while U.S. crude futures fell 0.12% to $56.71 per barrel.

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