Asia Pacific markets traded mixed on Thursday as investors remained cautious over global growth outlook and the ongoing Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Chinese mainland markets were muted: Shanghai composite declined 0.12% to 2,975.18 while the Shenzhen composite and the Shenzhen component closed near flat.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index gained 0.53% in late-afternoon trade, with shares of property developers jumping after the city's leader Carrie Lam announced on Wednesday measures to ease a housing shortage and calm anti-government protests.
Shares in Singapore fell as the Straits Times index dropped 0.64% in the afternoon. The Southeast Asian country, which recently dodged a technical recession, said on Thursday its non-oil domestic exports slipped by 8.1% in September — worse than the 7% forecast in a Reuters poll. That's the seventh straight month of exports contraction in Singapore, according to Reuters.
"These are borderline markets," Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank, wrote in a morning note. They are "running out of left-over half-full glass type of optimism (be it on US-China deal or Brexit), and now desperately looking for something else to cling on to."
In company news, BHP reported a 3% drop in its iron ore production for the three months that ended in September, citing planned maintenance at an important iron ore port in Western Australia. Still, it maintained production and unit cost guidance for the 2020 financial year.
Meanwhile, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed seasonally-adjusted employment in the country grew by an estimated 14,700. That figure was lower than the 15,000 that analysts in a Reuters poll had predicted.
The Australian dollar rose after the release of the employment report, trading at $0.6782 — around 0.41% higher than the previous day.
The session in Asia follows an overnight session where U.S. stocks slipped on weak economic data while European equities traded without any real direction as investors sought guidance over Brexit negotiations.
"Markets were dominated by Brexit speculation and headlines, while US data were mixed," Kishti Sen from ANZ Research wrote in a morning note.
"Whether a (Brexit) deal can be agreed in time is finely balanced. The most recent headlines were positive on the Irish issue, though "issues remain". A no-deal Brexit looks to be off the table," Sen added.
Brexit negotiations hit a wall on Wednesday, the last day of talks before an important European Union summit. The BBC cited a government source and said there will be "no deal tonight" as officials continue to work on the technical details of the negotiation in Brussels.
The deal would have to be approved by the EU, and then by the U.K. Parliament. If it is not approved by Oct. 19, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is legally obliged to ask the EU for an extension to the current departure date of Oct. 31.
The British pound traded at $1.2794 at 3:34 p.m. HK/SIN, dropping from an earlier level around $1.2838.
Elsewhere, the dollar last traded at 98.006 against a basket of its peers, dipping from levels near 98.400 reached earlier this week. The Japanese yen, which is considered a safe-haven asset, changed hands at 108.77 per dollar, weakening from around 107.400 last week.
Oil prices declined in afternoon trade during Asian hours: Global benchmark Brent fell 0.47% to $59.14 per barrel while U.S. crude was down 0.73% at $52.97.