Asia markets trade mixed; ASX hits two-week high as banking fears ease

This is CNBC's live blog covering Asia-Pacific markets.

Hong Kong island and Victoria Harbour cityscape, viewed from Victoria Peak. In the foreground, the Bank of China tower and Cheung Kong Center skyscrapers.
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Asia-Pacific markets were trading mixed on Thursday, with Australia's benchmark index hitting a two week high as concerns on the recent banking turmoil in the U.S. and Europe ease.

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 closed 1.02% higher at 7,122.3, led by miners and bank stocks. Top gainers BHP and Rio Tinto, were up 2.4% and 1.8% respectively, as well as the "Big Four" banks, which posted gains of 0.93% to 2.3%.

The "Big Four" banks refer to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank, ANZ Group, and Westpac Banking Corp.

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Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.36% to close at 27,782.93, while the Topix saw a larger loss of 0.61% to end at 1,983.32. South Korea's Kospi was up 0.38% to finish at 2,453.16, while the Kosdaq index gained 0.77% to end at 850.48.

The Hang Seng index rose 0.37%, while the Hang Seng Tech index also climbed 0.16%. In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite was up 0.65% to end at 3,261.25, with the Shenzhen Component also closed 0.62% higher to finish the day at 11,651.83.

Overnight in the U.S., stocks rose broadly as strong gains in tech helped the Nasdaq rebound after a losing session. Sentiment was also lifted by easing concerns around the state of the banking sector.

All three major indexes were up, with the  Nasdaq Composite leading gains and climbing 1.8%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1% and the S&P 500 gained 1.4%.

— CNBC's Brian Evans and Sarah Min contributed to this report.

ASX hits two week high, led by miners and bank stocks

Australian miners, banks and tech firms led the S&P/ASX 200 to its highest level in two weeks on Thursday.

The index currently trades at 7,120 points, the highest since March 10.

Top gainers on Thursday include miners BHP and Rio Tinto, which gained 2.37% and 1.61% respectively, as well as the "Big Four" banks, which recorded gains of 0.8% to 1.7%.

The "Big Four" banks refer to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank, ANZ Group, and Westpac Banking Corp.

Tech firms such as buy now, pay later firm Zip gained as much as 12% to hit a five-week high, before paring gains to 7.41% , while mobile payments firm Block Inc rose 4.28%.

— Lim Hui Jie

Microsoft's new cybersecurity chatbot can address talent shortage, says vice president

There's a chronic shortage of talent in cybersecurity, Microsoft says
There's a chronic shortage of talent in cybersecurity, Microsoft says

Microsoft's vice president of security foresees that a product like Microsoft Security Copilot — the tech giant's newly launched cybersecurity artificial intelligence chatbot on Tuesday — can help ease the existing cybersecurity talent shortage.

Microsoft Security Copilot is a joint project with OpenAI's GPT-4 technology. Microsoft announced a multibillion-dollar investment into the ChatGPT-maker in January.

"There's a chronic shortage of talent in cybersecurity," said Andrew Conway, Microsoft's security vice president, on CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" Thursday. An annual cybersecurity workforce study found a shortage of 3.4 million cybersecurity workers globally.

Microsoft said that it receives more than 65 trillion threat signals a day and such a product can help cybersecurity professionals better understand signals and identify breaches.

"We're already integrating Security Copilot into [our] ecosystem of [security] products so this is important work now and even more so because of the talent shortage that we see in cybersecurity roles," said Conway.

— Sheila Chiang

CNBC Pro: India has big manufacturing plans. Goldman names 2 global stocks to benefit — giving one 60% upside

India has a massive plan to boost manufacturing — and technology firms in Greater China will be a key beneficiary, according to Goldman Sachs.

The investment bank called the plan a "substantial opportunity" for such firms, and names two stocks to buy, including a global tech giant. One of them has upside of nearly 60%.

CNBC Pro subscribers can read more here.

— Weizhen Tan

Alibaba shares rise 2% after company holds investor call

Shares of Alibaba listed in Hong Kong rose as much as 2.7% in early trade and last traded nearly 1.8% higher after Alibaba executives further clarified the nature of the latest restructuring announcement to split into six units, each with the ability to raise outside funding and go public.

CEO Daniel Zhang told investors on a Thursday morning conference call, "Alibaba will be more of the nature of an asset and capital operator than a business operator, in relation to the business group companies."

He added that the units announced in the restructuring will have their own CEOs and boards and Alibaba will retain boardroom seats in the short-term.

After the restructuring process takes place and the separate entities go public, Alibaba will "continue to evaluate the strategic importance of these companies" CFO Toby Xu said on the call, adding that it "will decide whether or not to continue to retain control."

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– Jihye Lee

CreditSights maintains Alibaba's 'outperform' recommendation

CreditSights maintained its "outperform" recommendation on Alibaba after its overhaul of business structure, adding that the plans will not have much of an impact on the company's credit.

"We see a limited near-term impact of the reorganization on Alibaba's debt metrics given all six units remain consolidated and controlled by the group," CreditSights said in a note.

It expects to see potential from the separate entities' fundraisings, especially units that have been unprofitable, to be a net credit positive effect on the wider group.

"We think that the corporate reorganization reduces the risk of cash burn for Alibaba to fund unprofitable business lines," the note added.

"We expect the potential separate equity fund-raising (including IPOs) of these business units to help ease the cash burn for Alibaba, a credit positive in our view," it said.

– Jihye Lee

Japan aims for 'new capitalism' plan; PM refutes snap election report: Reuters

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government will draw up a plan in June on "new capitalism" that focuses on wage hikes, innovation, and resolving social problems, Reuters reported.

Kishida added the government will make efforts to narrow the wage gap between domestic firms and their overseas rivals, the report said.

Separately, Reuters also reported the prime minister as saying that he was not considering an early dissolution of the parliament, refuting local media reports saying his administration is calling for a snap election in the coming months.

Japanese media cited Kishida as having successfully passing the budget bill for full-year 2023 as motivation to call a snap election to solidify his standing within the party.

– Jihye Lee

Australia's job vacancies fall in February quarter

Australia's quarterly job vacancies fell in the February quarter, Australia's Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.

Total job vacancies fell 1.5% from November 2022 to 438,500, government data showed – vacancies in the private sector fell 1.5%, while vacancies in the public sector dropped 1.4%.

The decline in job vacancies was driven by retail trade, ABS said, adding that the vacancies were 92.4% higher than seen in the same quarter in 2020, before the Covid pandemic.

– Jihye Lee

Malaysia's central bank expects economy to grow between 4% to 5% in 2023

Bank Negara Malaysia expects to see a full-year growth of 4% to 5% for the economy, it said in its annual report.

The central bank said the growth forecast will be supported by "firm domestic demand."

"Further improvement in labor market conditions, continued implementation of multi-year investment projects and higher tourism activity are expected to support private consumption and investment growth," the report said.

The central bank noted upside risks to its inflation forecasts between 2.8% and 3.8% for the year, include stronger-than-expected demand from China as well as further geopolitical conflict.

– Jihye Lee

Bank of Thailand raises rates by 25 basis points

The Bank of Thailand on Wednesday raised its benchmark interest rate by 25 basis points to 1.75%.

The central bank said the Thai economy is expected to continue to expand, driven by tourism and private consumption, while noting heightened uncertainty over the recent turmoil around banks in the U.S. and Europe.

"The global economic uncertainty has increased, in part from persistent inflationary pressures and episodes of banking stresses in advanced economies," it said in its policy statement.

It noted Thailand's banks have not been affected by the turmoil, adding that its system is "resilient."

"Recent banking stresses in some advanced economies have not had a significant impact on the Thai financial system, as Thai financial institutions and corporations have limited linkages with the troubled banks and risky assets," the central bank said.

– Jihye Lee

MAS calls DBS Bank's outage 'unacceptable'

Singapore's monetary authority has called DBS Bank's outage on Wednesday "unacceptable" and said the bank has "fallen short" of expectations.

MAS said it has instructed DBS to investigate and establish the root cause of the disruption, before submitting its findings to the authority. It will then "take the commensurate supervisory actions after gathering the necessary facts," MAS said in a statement.

The outage on Wednesday saw DBS' digital services disrupted from about 10am in the morning until 5.45pm.

DBS CEO Piyush Gupta said on Wednesday that the bank was "disappointed" with the incident, and added that "we hold ourselves to higher standards and it is our utmost priority to review the events of today."

—Lim Hui Jie

Fitch says Adani Transmission, Adani Ports exposed to contagion risks

Adani Transmission and Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone are exposed to "higher contagion risks," Fitch Ratings said in its press release.

"The governance weaknesses at the sponsor level and other Adani group entities expose even the group's stable cash-generative corporate-like issuers, Adani Transmission Limited and Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited, to higher contagion risks," said Fitch Ratings.

It added that if such risks are not properly addressed, the entities could see its financial flexibility being affected.

Fitch reiterated both companies' ratings at BBB- in the release. Shares of Adani Transmission fell 0.5% in Wednesday's trade in Mumbai, while Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone rose by more than 5%.

– Jihye Lee

All 11 S&P 500 sectors trade up

All 11 of the S&P 500 sectors traded up, helping power the index's rally.

Leading the way up was information technology with a 1.9% advance, followed by real estate at 1.7%. Health care was the laggard of the group, but was still up 0.1%.

The broader index, meanwhile, gained 1.2%.

— Alex Harring

Tech stocks rise, Nasdaq jumps more than 1%

Strength in technology stocks lifted the Nasdaq Composite nearly 1.3% as of 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday, helping the tech-heavy index bounce back following a losing session.

Semiconductor and big technology stocks contributed largely to those gains, with Amazon up nearly 3%. Apple, Nvidia, Microsoft, Meta Platforms, Salesforce and Netflix gained more than 1% each.

A rise in Micron shares despite a disappointing quarter boosted the broader semiconductor sector. Micron added about 6%, while Marvell Technology, Intel and Lam Research gained at least 4% each. ON Semiconductor, Qualcomm and Analog Devices rose more than 2%, while Advanced Micro Devices inched 1.4% higher.

The S&P 500's information technology sector rose 1.6%, while communication services added about 1%.

— Samantha Subin

Fed's Barr said regulators had 'substantial authority' to oversee failed banks

Officials had enough rules to effectively oversee the regional banks that failed recently, the Federal Reserve's top regulator said Wednesday.

"I think we had substantial authority under existing law to regulate firms and supervise firms in a way that is appropriate for their risk and size and complexity," Michael Barr, the Fed's vice chair of supervision, told the House Financial Services Committee.

Some lawmakers, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have suggested that tighter regulations are needed for banks. Barr and other banking officials seemed to agree with that sentiment during Senate testimony Tuesday.

Barr said the failures that led to the demise of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank were spread.

"I think any time you have a bank failure like this, bank management clearly failed, supervisors failed and our regulatory system failed. So we're looking at all of that," he said.

—Jeff Cox

UBS shares climb as old CEO returns

Shares of UBS jumped on Wednesday after the Swiss bank announced it was bringing back Sergio Ermotti as CEO to help oversee the absorption of Credit Suisse.

Ermotti, who previously served as the bank's CEO from 2011 to 2020. He will resume control on April 5th.

In a note to clients, Bank of America analyst Alastair Ryan cited Ermotti's "signature restructuring" of the bank during his previous tenure as a reason for investors would be happy with his return.

The Swiss-traded shares of UBS rose 4.4% following the announcement.

The stock is still down since the first week of March, when worries about the banking system on both sides of the Atlantic began.

— Jesse Pound