Asia markets waver, Singapore shares down 0.41%

Asia markets waver, Singapore shares down 0.41%

Asia markets wavered in early trade Wednesday, in uncertain trading after the global sell-off in European and US equities overnight.

Singapore's Straits Times Index fell 0.41 per cent, or 11.50 points, to 2,789.42 points in early trade, The Business Times reported.

Australia's ASX 200 was up 0.10 per cent and South Korea's Kospi was up 0.31 per cent as of 8:56 a.m. HK/SIN time. Japan's Nikkei 225 erased initial gains to slip 0.18 per cent.

Ray Attrill, global co-head of FX strategy at the National Australia Bank, said in a morning note there was no obvious catalyst for the sell-off overnight.

"Rather, we'd gauge that stock investors are retreating back into their shells ahead of the US first quarter earnings seasons that kicks off in earnest next Monday," he said.

Major indexes in the US closed lower, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.75 per cent, the S&P 500 lower by 1.01 per cent and the Nasdaq composite off 0.98 per cent. The FTSE closed down 1.19 per cent.

In the currency market, the dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of currencies, was flat at 94.628 as of 8:25 am.

The Japanese yen maintained the 110 handle against the greenback, with the dollar/yen pair trading at 110.47 in the morning local time. On Tuesday, the pair was as low as 109.94 before finishing the session at 110.31. That compares with levels above 112 last week.

Major Japanese exporters were mixed, with some taking cues from the slight rebound in the dollar/yen from yesterday's session lows. Shares of Toyota were up 0.26 per cent, Nissan added 0.81 per cent and Honda was up 1.04 per cent. But Sony shed 1.08 per cent and heavily weighted Fast Retailing lost 0.62 per cent.

A strong yen is usually a negative for exporters as it affects their overseas revenue when converted into local currency.

Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management, said in a morning note that the stronger the yen gets against the dollar, the greater the problems will be for Japanese companies. "Most Japanese corporations are hedged at 115 so they are bleeding profits at 110 and lower," she said. She expects more "jawboning" from Japanese policymakers in the coming days, with "the possibility of physical intervention if the dollar/yen falls much further."

"It is clear that traders are trying to test the Bank of Japan's limits because US and Japanese data still support gains in the dollar/yen. The US economy is improving (albeit at a slower than anticipated pace) while Japan's economy is weakening," she said.

Oil prices advanced during Asian hours, with US crude futures adding 2.59 per cent to $36.82 a barrel, while global benchmark Brent futures were higher by 1.8 per cent at US$38.55 (S$52.28).

Energy plays saw a rebound around the region, with shares of Santos adding 5.35 per cent, Woodside Petroleum higher by 3.13 per cent and Inpex adding 1.7 per cent.

On the data front, China's Caixin services PMI are due.

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