Asia markets extend losses after possible N Korean nuclear test

Asia markets extend losses after possible N Korean nuclear test

Asian markets were mostly lower after reports indicated an earthquake in North Korea was caused by an explosion, possibly from a nuclear test in the isolated nation.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 was off 0.1 per cent, erasing earlier gains, and South Korea's Kospi extended losses, down 1.19 per cent, after Yonhap broke news of a suspected nuclear test in North Korea after an earthquake was detected near a known nuclear testing site.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 opened down 0.6 per cent, dragged by losses in its heavily-weighted financials subindex, which slid 0.87 per cent, but losses were offset by its energy sector rising 1.55 per cent.

Chinese markets were nearly flat, with the Shanghai composite lower by 0.05 per cent and the Shenzhen composite down 0.044 per cent. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was up 0.43 per cent.

Disappointment with the European Central Bank (ECB) decision to stand pat on policy also weighed shares around the region. The ECB surprised markets by deciding not to extend the deadline of its bond-buying programme. It also lowered its growth and inflation forecasts for 2017 and 2018.

"Yesterday's no-change stance however does not diminish the need for further easing," Radhika Rao, an economist at DBS Bank, said in a note Friday, citing inflation data remaining well below the central bank's 2 per cent target. "But there was no explicit mention of fresh measures under consideration, spurring a knee-jerk negative reaction in the markets."

On the data front, China's inflation in August grew at its slowest pace year-on-year since October 2015.

The August producer price index (PPI) rose 0.2 per cent from the previous month, but fell 0.8 per cent year-on-year, while the consumer price index (CPI) increased by 1.3 per cent on-year, missing a Reuters poll forecast for a 1.7 per cent rise.

In South Korea, the central bank held interest rates at 1.25 per cent for the third straight month at its policy meeting, as expected, as it took a cautious approach to increasing household debt while awaiting the Fed's next move.

Oil prices soared more than 4 per cent on Thursday after US Energy Information Administration said crude stockpiles dropped by 14.5 million barrels last week to 511.6 million barrels, the biggest weekly drop since January 1999, Reuters reported.

"The record drop is being further propelled by oil production disruptions from storms in the Gulf. Markets have realised that the lack of supply is real and fundamentally driven, which will help the oil price over the short-term at least," said Anthony Darvall, chief market strategist at trading platform easyMarkets, in a note Friday.

During Asia trade, the global benchmark Brent slipped 0.90 per cent to $49.54 (S$66.95) a barrel at 9:46 a.m. HK/SIN, while US crude futures shed 0.82 per cent to $47.23.

Markets will also pay attention to Federal Reserve voting members Eric Rosengren and Daniel Tarullo, who were scheduled to speak later in the day, for hints on Fed rate expectations.

Major US indexes closed lower; the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.25 per cent at 18,479.91, the S&P 500 finished lower by 0.22 per cent at 2,181.3 and the Nasdaq composite ended down 0.46 per cent, snapping a four-day winning streak as Apple slipped 2.6 per cent.

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