(RTTNews.com) - Asian stock markets are turning in a mixed performance on Wednesday, with investors mostly treading cautiously amid some mixed economic data from the region. The overnight weak close on Wall Street is also weighing on investor sentiment to an extent.
The Australian market is trading lower, hurt by a weak reading on consumer sentiment and weak iron ore prices. Mining, energy, consumer discretionary, industrial and financial stocks are trading notably lower.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index is down 15.9 points or 0.3 percent at 5,404.5, after having declined to 5,372.1 earlier in the day. The broader All Ordinaries index, which eased to 5,353.4 earlier, is currently down 17.2 points or 0.3 percent at 5,384.5.
In the banking space, ANZ Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac (WBK) are trading flat, while National Australia Bank is lower by about 0.5 percent. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank and Bank of Queensland are modestly lower.
Among top miners, BHP Billiton (BHP) is losing about 1.2 percent, Rio Tinto (RIO) is declining 1.6 percent and Fortescue Metals is down nearly 2 percent, while Newcrest Mining is gaining 0.3 percent.
In the energy sector, Woodside Petroleum is down marginally. Woodside Petroleum announced that it has terminated its agreement to take a stake in a $2.7 billion natural gas project in Israel.
Santos, Origin Energy and Caltex Australia are also trading weak, while Oil Search is up 0.7 percent.
Spark Infrastructure is losing about 5.5 percent after the company announced the completion of the A$200 million placement to institutional securityholders associated with the acquisition of a 14.1 percent interest in Duet Group.
Adelaide Brighton is declining 4.8 percent and REA Group is down by about 3.5 percent. Incitec Pivot, Regis Resources, JB Hi-Fi, Dulux Group, WorleyParsons, Downer EDI, Orica, Beach Energy and Alumina (AWC) are down 1.5 to 2.3 percent.
Meanwhile, Treasury Wine Estates, Coca-Cola Amatil, James Hardie Industries, CFS Retail Property Trust Group, Ansell and QBE Insurance Group are in positive territory, gaining 1.8 to 3.2 percent.
On the economic front, an index measuring consumer confidence in Australia turned sharply lower in May, the latest sentiment survey from Westpac revealed on Wednesday, checking in with a score of 92.9. That's down 6.8 percent from the April reading of 99.7, and represents the lowest score since August 2011. Concerns over the proposed budget released last week were the key drag, Westpac said.
Meanwhile, first-quarter wage costs and April numbers for skilled vacancies will be out later in the day. Wage costs are expected to rise 0.7 percent on quarter and 2.6 percent on year - both unchanged from the previous three months. Vacancies dipped 0.2 percent on month in March, while the confidence index added 0.3 percent to a score of 99.7 in April.
In the currency market, the Australian dollar dropped to a three week low against the U.S. dollar. The local unit is currently trading at US$0.9236, down nearly 0.4 percent from Tuesday's close of US$0.9271.
The Japanese stock market drifted lower on weak cues from Wall Street and a slightly stronger yen.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index was down 40.3 points or 0.3 percent at 14,034.9 at the end of the morning session, after declining to 13,969.7 in early trades, its lowest level since April 15.
Nisshin Steel, Tokuyama Corp., Komatsu, Japan Steel Works, Hino Motors, Konami Corp. and Dowa Holdings lost 2.5 to 4 percent.
Mitsui Fudosan lost about 2 percent. The company's interest-bearing debt is likely to grow to around 2.23 trillion yen as of March 2015, rising 200 billion yen on the year, following the company stepping up investment in expectation of higher land prices.
Hitachi Construction Machinery, J Front Retailing, Sumitomo Metal Mining, Sapporo Holdings, Mazda Motor, Furukawa Electric, Kobe Steel, Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Holdings, Yahoo Japan, Isuzu Motors, Hitachi Zosen and Sumitomo Electric Industries also declined sharply.
Meanwhile, Pacific Metals, Inpex Corp. and Chiyoda Corp. moved up 2.5 to 3 percent. Osaka Gas, Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Konica Minolta, Shimizu Corp., JX Holdings, Minebea Co., Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., Sony Financial Holdings and Olympus Corp. gained 1 to 2 percent.
On the economic front, Japan saw a merchandise trade deficit of 808.8 billion yen in April, the Ministry of Finance said on Wednesday. That missed forecasts for a shortfall of 646 billion yen following the 1,446 billion yen deficit in March.
Exports climbed 5.1 percent on year, beating expectations for an increase of 4.8 percent following the 1.8 percent gain in the previous month. Imports jumped an annual 3.4 percent versus forecasts for an increase of 0.8 percent following the 18.1 percent surge a month earlier.
Later in the day, the Japanese central bank will announce its rate decision. It is widely expected that the bank will keep its benchmark interest rate on hold at the current level of 0 to 0.10 percent. Investors also will watch the post-decision press conference with BoJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda for clues to future policy movement.
In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded in the lower 101 yen range in early deals in Tokyo. The yen is currently trading at 101.21 to the dollar, compared to Tuesday's close of 101.40 yen per dollar.
Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand are trading weak. Shanghai and South Korea are modestly higher, while Hong Kong, Taiwan and Indonesia are up marginally.
On Wall Street, stocks ended notably lower on Tuesday with traders reacting to disappointing quarterly results from retailers such as Staples ( SPLS ), Dick's Sporting Goods ( DKS ) and Home Depot ( HD ). Philadelphia Federal Reserve President Charles Plosser's remarks that the Fed may be required to begin raising interest rates sooner rather than later contributed as well to the market's decline.
The major averages climbed off their worst levels in late-day trading, but remained firmly in the red. The Dow tumbled 137.6 points or 0.8 percent to 16,374.3, the Nasdaq declined 28.9 points or 0.7 percent to 4,096.9 and the S&P 500 slid 12.3 points or 0.7 percent to 1,872.8.
Major European markets too closed weak on Tuesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index declined by 0.6 percent, the French CAC 40 index and the German DAX index lost 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively.
U.S. crude oil ended higher for a third straight session on Tuesday, on growing concerns of possible supply disruptions from Russia amid the prevailing geopolitical tensions in Ukraine. Nonetheless, the gains were limited with an expected build in U.S. stockpiles.
Crude for July delivery ended up $0.22 or 0.2 percent at $102.33 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
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