Asia trades lower, with Nikkei down 1.1 per cent

Asia trades lower, with Nikkei down 1.1 per cent

Asia markets were lower across the board on Wednesday, following losses in US equities overnight.

Singapore shares opened lower, with the Straits Times Index at 2,777.09, down 1.68 points, The Business Times reported.

The Japanese benchmark Nikkei 225 was lower by 1.13 per cent in early trade, while across the Korean Strait, the Kospi slipped 0.1 per cent.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 was down 0.13 per cent in morning trade, with the energy sector down 3.4 per cent and the materials sector shedding 1.7 per cent.

Australian miners were mostly in the red, with major players such as Rio Tinto down 3.93 per cent, BHP Billiton lower by 4.06 per cent and Fortescue losing 6.09 per cent in the first half hour of market open.

Evan Lucas, a market strategist at spreadbetter IG, said in a morning note that drivers behind the recent gains in equities, including rebounds in iron ore prices and oil prices, "are now showing signs of topping out." He also warned that several key macro headwinds remain can weigh on sentiment.

One such factor likely to weigh on sentiment today is China's weaker-than-expected trade data.

Rodrigo Catril, a currency strategist at the National Australia Bank, said in a note, "renewed concerns over China's economic outlook following [Tuesday's] softer than expected trade numbers halted a five day equity rally and triggered a bid for safe haven assets."

China's February trade data showed exports fell 25.4 per cent on-year and imports declined 13.8 per cent, clocking far bigger slides than expected by analysts.

Catril added subsequent market reactions to the trade numbers suggest investors remain concerned over "the apparent soft demand for China's exports." He said it is still a little too early to draw any big conclusions, but noted March trade figures will be very important.

Among safe-haven assets, the Japanese yen maintained its strength against the dollar at the 112 handle, off levels above 113 touched Tuesday. The dollar/yen pair traded at 112.56 as of 8:10 a.m. HK/SIN time.

Major exporters in Japan were down, with Toyota losing 1.2 per cent, Nissan off by 2.11 per cent and Honda lower by 2.23 per cent. A stronger yen is usually a negative for exporters as it affects their overseas profits when converted into the local currency.

In corporate news, Japan's Nikkei newspaper reported that Canon is a front-runner to buy Toshiba's healthcare business, with a bid of over 700 billion yen (S$8.6 billion). Toshiba is undergoing a restructuring following an accounting scandal in 2015.

Other bidders for Toshiba's healthcare business include Fujifilm, as well as a coalition of Konica Minolta and European private equity fund Permira, reported the Nikkei.

Shares of Toshiba were down 3.98 per cent, while Canon shares slipped 0.45 per cent.

Gold, another safe-haven asset, was also up, with spot gold trading higher by 0.18 per cent at $1,262.96 in early Asian hours. However, gold miners in Australia saw their shares slide, with Newcrest down 2.56 per cent and Alacer Gold losing 0.36 per cent.

Oil prices ended their recent winning streak overnight, as the global benchmark Brent settled down 2.9 per cent at $39.65 a barrel, while US crude finished 3.7 per cent lower to $36.50.

Oil plays in the region were sharply lower, with Santos down 3.73 per cent, Woodside Petroleum falling 3.59 per cent, Inpex lower by 4.31 per cent and Japan Petroleum losing 1.91 per cent.

Major US indexes closed lower, with the Dow Jones industrial average off 0.64 per cent, the S&P 500 slipping 1.12 per cent and the Nasdaq composite ending down 1.26 per cent.

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