Most Asian shares trade lower as US-Russia tensions rise over Syria

FAN Editor

Asian stocks were mixed in early Thursday trade as investor confidence seen earlier in the week appeared to fade overnight amid geopolitical tensions.

The Nikkei 225 eased 0.36 percent in early trade. The broader Topix was lower by the same degree as its mining subindex gained 1.46 percent while automakers slid. Oil-related stocks were moderately higher.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.27 percent as gains in the materials and energy subindexes were offset by the financials sector slipping 0.42 percent.

Over in South Korea, the Kospi bucked the broader trend to edge higher by 0.22 percent. Shippers gained in the morning while steelmakers slightly eased.

MSCI’s broad index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan were little changed, last trading lower by 0.05 percent.

The moderate declines in Australia and Japan tracked the weaker lead on Wall Street following a tweet from President Donald Trump taunting Russia about a possible missile strike on Syria.

Trump’s tweet that Russia should “get ready” for a potential strike on Syria came after a likely chemical weapons attack over the weekend on a rebel-held town in the eastern Ghouta region of Syria.

Asian markets had bounced earlier in the week after remarks from Chinese President Xi Jinping promising some steps to further open up China’s economy. That came after an elevation in trade tensions between the U.S. and China in recent weeks.

That confidence wavered slightly in the last session as investors in the region awaited signals that Xi’s comments would translate into action. Negotiation between the world’s two biggest economies is also seen by analysts as unlikely to instantly solve tensions.

Investors stateside on Wednesday also digested the release of minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s March meeting, which reflected that “all” policymakers expected the U.S. economy to continue growing and for inflation to rise. Those views strengthened the belief that more interest rate hikes lay ahead.

Gold prices, which rose on the back of heightened political risk, slipped following the release of minutes from the Fed.

Ahead, earnings are likely to be in focus, with J.P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup among the major banking names reporting on Friday. In Asia, Japan’s Fast Retailing is expected to announce semiannual results for fiscal 2018 later in the day.

In currencies, the dollar was flat after coming under pressure against the safe-haven Japanese currency amid the pick up in geopolitical risk overnight. Against the yen, the dollar traded at 106.01 by 8:01 a.m. HK/SIN.

The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against six rival currencies, stood at 89.499.

Oil prices were steady after surging in the last session as markets focused on geopolitical risk. U.S. West Texas Intermediate was higher by 0.03 percent at $66.84 per barrel and Brent crude futures shed 0.04 percent to trade at $72.03.

Global benchmark Brent touched its highest levels in more than three years in the last session following Trump’s tweet on Wednesday.

Here’s the economic calendar for Thursday (all times in HK/SIN):

  • 9:00 a.m.: Bank of Korea interest rates decision
  • 1:00 p.m.: Singapore retail sales
  • 8:00 p.m.: India industrial production
  • 8:00 p.m.: India CPI

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