Asia markets open mixed, Singapore shares down 1%

Asia markets open mixed, Singapore shares down 1%

Asian markets traded mixed on Thursday as investors digested remarks from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and oil remained volatile.

Singapore stocks opened one per cent lower, with the benchmark Straits Times Index dropping 26.16 points to 2,555.94, The Business Times reported.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.56 per cent, but the index was weighed by losses in the energy, materials, and financials sectors. The index closed Wednesday down 20.17 per cent from its 52-week closing high, set in April 2015, leaving it in bear territory.

Banking stocks, which have come under pressure in recent times, were mixed in early trade, with NAB posting gains of 0.41 per cent. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia was down 0.84 per cent.

Shares of hearing aid maker Cochlear went up 8.58 per cent after the company reported half-yearly net profit was up by 32 per cent at A$94 million (S$94 million) for the six months to December 31. It beat analyst expectations and the company raised its full-year earnings forecast.

Among other notable Australian companies reporting earnings today are resources producer Rio Tinto, Virgin Australia, Transurban, Suncorp, stock exchange operator ASX and Mirvac.

South Korea's Kospi, which re-opened after being shut for three days during the Lunar New Year holidays, was down 2.55 per cent, with blue chip stocks such as Samsung Electronics and Posco down 1.50 and 3.04 per cent, respectively. Brokerages also took a hit amid global uncertainties with Samsung Securities down 4.58 per cent and Mirae Asset Securities dropping 4.34 per cent.

Japanese shares will get a respite from their sell-off; markets in Japan are closed for the National Foundation Day holiday.

The Nikkei 225 has been on a downward track in recent days, as the yen rapidly strengthened against the dollar. As of Wednesday's close, the index had ended in the red for six of the past seven sessions, and was down 24.70 per cent from its 52-week high set in June 2015.

Markets returning to trade today after being off for the Lunar New Year holidays also include Hong Kong. Mainland Chinese markets and Taiwan will resume trade next week.

Oil prices remained volatile overnight as OPEC data pointed to a larger oil supply surplus on the world market this year, as the likes of Saudi Arabia pumped more to make up for reduced drilling by non-OPEC countries that have been hurt by lower prices.

US crude was down 49 cents, or 1.75 per cent, at $27.45 a barrel in the US session, while global benchmark Brent was up 73 cents at $31.06 a barrel.

Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen began her semiannual congressional testimony in the US overnight, where she addressed mounting whispers about whether the Fed could implement negative interest rates as a way to boost economic activity. She said the central bank has not completely researched whether that would be legal.

Asked if she foresaw the Fed cutting rates soon, having only hiked rates in December for the first time nine years, Yellen said she did not expect that to happen any time soon as she considered the risk of a US recession to be low.

Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management, said in a Wednesday note that there were three key takeaways from Yellen's testimony. First, the Fed hadn't made up its mind about March, but chances are it won't raise rates. Secondly, the central bank is also very worried about financial market volatility, a strong dollar, wider credit spreads, and low oil prices. But finally, it is optimistic about the labour market and the impact that wage gains will have on spending.

Morgan Stanley said in a note, though, that Yellen's testimony wasn't dovish enough to assuage growth and inflation concerns that are building in global markets.

"Until the Fed makes clear that "gradual" could mean only one or two rate hikes in 2016 instead of three or four, or until the Fed changes the narrative away from rate hikes altogether, we think risk markets will struggle in the absence of positive catalysts," Morgan Stanley analysts said.

Wall Street closed mixed as investors digested Yellen's remarks. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 99.64 points, or 0.62 per cent, at 15,914.74. The S&P 500 closed 0.35 points down, or 0.02 per cent, at 1,851.86, while the Nasdaq composite gained 14.83 points, or 0.35 per cent, to 4,283.59.

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