Asia opens in the red following softer lead from Wall Street

Asia opens in the red following softer lead from Wall Street
PHOTO: AFP

Asian markets opened in the red on Tuesday, following the lower close on Wall Street.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index traded lower by 0.3 per cent.

The S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 per cent, driven by broad declines in the utilities, financials and energy sub-indexes. Major banking and resource stocks traded in the red.

South Korean markets are closed for Memorial Day.

The subdued performance in the markets overnight could be due to investors awaiting bigger news due later in the week, National Australia Bank Currency Strategist Rodrigo Catril suggested in a Tuesday morning note.

"It has been a quiet overnight session ahead of what could be a stormy Thursday, with the European Central Bank, UK election and (James) Comey's testimony all occurring on the same day," Catril said.

Oil prices rose slightly after declining almost 1 per cent overnight following news that Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East had severed diplomatic ties with Qatar.

Qatar is the world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter.

Brent crude added 0.34 per cent to trade at $49.64 and US West Texas Intermediate crude gained 0.27 per cent to trade at $47.53.

The Australian dollar was flat after gaining on the back of the news about Qatar as disruptions in the latter's LNG supply could potentially benefit Australian LNG exports, analysts suggested.

The Aussie fetched as high as $0.7488 overnight. Aussie/dollar last traded at $0.7487 at 7:55 a.m. HK/SIN.

Ahead, the Reserve Bank of Australia is scheduled to review interest rates at 12:30 p.m. HK/SIN with analysts widely expecting it to hold steady at a record low 1.50 per cent for the cash rate.

Also on the economic calendar today are Q1 balance of payments out of Australia at 9:30 a.m. HK/SIN

First quarter GDP due later this week is likely to influence the direction of the Aussie dollar more than the Reserve Bank of Australia's decisions due today, said Commonwealth Bank Senior Currency Strategist Elias Haddad.

"Towards the end of the year, we expect the Australian dollar to edge higher towards $0.76, $0.7650," Haddad added.

The dollar was mostly flat against a basket of six major currencies, off the seven-month low seen last Friday. The dollar index traded at 96.784 at 8:12 a.m. HK/SIN.

The British pound hit a ten-day high in the overnight session ahead of the UK election later this week, fetching as much as $1.2908 compared to levels around the $1.28 handle seen last week. Cable last traded at $1.2907.

Meanwhile, the yuan gained against the dollar after the People's Bank of China set the yuan reference point near a seven-month high of 6.7935 to the dollar on Monday.

The central bank lets the yuan spot rate rise or fall a maximum of 2 per cent against the greenback, relative to the official fixing rate. The on-shore yuan traded at 6.8030 to the dollar. In the offshore market, the yuan traded at 6.7817 to the dollar.

Stateside, stocks in the US closed the session lower after hitting record highs before the weekend.

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