Asian Shares Move Mostly Lower In Cautious Trading

Asian stocks moved mostly lower during trading on Wednesday as traders weighed the impact of a surge in coronavirus cases around the world and waited for U.S. President Joe Biden’s big announcement on infrastructure and other measures to support the economic recovery.

Chinese shares ended lower despite data pointing to a strong economic recovery. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index dropped 14.76 points, or 0.4 percent, to 3,441.91, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index ended down 199.15 points, or 0.7 percent, at 28,378.35.

The manufacturing sector in China expanded at a faster rate in March, the National Bureau of Statistics said today, with a manufacturing PMI score of 51.9. That beat expectations for 51.0 and was up from 50.6 in February.

The NBS also said its non-manufacturing PMI came in at 56.3, up sharply from 51.4 in the previous month.

Japanese shares ended lower after two sessions of gains. The Nikkei 225 Index fell 253.90 points, or 0.9 percent, to 29,178.80 amid concerns about a possible fourth wave of coronavirus infections in the country. The broader Topix ended 1.2 percent lower at 1,954.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group advanced 1.7 percent, while Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing gave up 1.1 percent. Automakers finished broadly higher, with Toyota Motor climbing over 3 percent. Banks Mizuho Financial, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial lost 3-4 percent.

Industrial output in Japan fell a seasonally adjusted 2.1 percent sequentially month in February, official data showed. That was shy of expectations for a fall of 1.2 percent following the 4.3 percent jump in January.

On a yearly basis, industrial production shed 2.6 percent – roughly in line with expectations – after sinking 5.2 percent in the previous month.

Australian markets ended notably higher, with industrial and real estate stocks leading the surge. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index climbed 52.30 points, or 0.8 percent, to 6,790.70, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended up 47.20 points, or 0.7 percent, at 7,017.

Among the top gainers, Transurban Group gained 2.6 percent, Sydney Airport rallied 3.9 percent and Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield surged 6.4 percent.

Miners BHP and Rio Tinto rose about 1 percent, while banks eked out modest gains. Energy stocks ended broadly lower, though Origin Energy rose 1.7 percent.

Resolute Mining jumped 4.8 percent after the gold miner reaffirmed its full year guidance of producing up to 375,000 ounces of gold at a maximum cost of A$1,365 or US$1,275 per ounce.

In economic news, the total number of building permits issued in Australia rose a seasonally adjusted 21.6 percent sequentially in February, a government report showed.

Separately, central bank data revealed that private sector credit in Australia was up 0.2 percent month-on-month in February, unchanged from the January reading.

Seoul stocks ended lower as the bourse operator said that it would check on its regulations on stock short selling. The Kospi slipped 8.58 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,061.42.

Industrial output in South Korea advanced a seasonally adjusted 4.3 percent month-on-month in February, Statistics Korea said. That beat forecasts for a decline of 0.1 percent.

Another report showed the value of retail sales in South Korea dropped a seasonally adjusted 0.8 percent sequentially in the month – missing forecasts for a decline of 0.3 percent.

A measure of business confidence in the country ticked higher in March, with the corresponding index rising to 89.0 from 82.0 in February.

New Zealand shares advanced, with the benchmark NZX 50 Index climbing 113.94 points, or 0.9 percent, to 12,560.70 as travel stocks rallied on optimism about border re-opening. Auckland International Airport gained 2.2 percent and Air New Zealand added 1.8 percent.

U.S. stocks ended slightly lower overnight as treasury yields hit a new 14-month high and investors awaited details on Biden’s infrastructure plan.

A measure of U.S. consumer confidence spiked in March to its highest level since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, reinforcing investor optimism about the economy.

The Dow and the S&P 500 slid around 0.3 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index edged down 0.1 percent.

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