Asian Markets Mostly Higher Amid Cautious Trades

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( - Asian stock markets are mostly higher on Friday after a substantial late-stage rebound by U.S. stocks overnight in a volatile session. However, gains are modest in most markets as investors remained cautious amid lingering concerns about the global economic outlook, higher interest rates and the ongoing U.S. government shutdown.

The Australian market is extending gains from the previous session following a substantial late-stage rebound by U.S. stocks. Banks, insurance and oil stocks are among the leading gainers, while property and industrials shares are lower after they went ex-dividend.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 34.20 points or 0.61 percent to 5,631.40, after touching a high of 5,590.70 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is advancing 32.70 points or 0.58 percent to 5,694.80. Australian stocks closed almost 2 percent higher on Thursday.

The big four banks - National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and ANZ Banking - are higher in a range of 1.2 percent to 1.5 percent.

In the insurance sector, QBE is up 0.3 percent, Insurance Australia Group is adding almost 1 percent and Suncorp is higher by more than 1 percent.

Oil stocks are also higher despite a fall in crude oil prices overnight. Woodside Petroleum is up 0.2 percent, Oil Search is adding 0.4 percent and Santos is advancing more than 1 percent.

Among the major miners, Rio Tinto is adding 0.4 percent and BHP Group is edging up 0.1 percent, while Fortescue Metals is down 0.2 percent.

Rio Tinto said it does not expect to cut jobs in 2019 despite having deployed automated heavy-haul trains in the Pilbara mines to cut costs.

Gold miners are weak despite gold prices rising for a third straight session overnight. Evolution Mining is down 0.3 percent and Newcrest Mining is losing almost 1 percent.

Shares of toll-road operator Transurban are adding almost 1 percent, recovering from earlier losses after going ex-dividend.

Meanwhile, shares of Vicinity Centres Re are down 0.6 percent, while Dexus Property Group is lower by 0.3 percent and Goodman Group is declining almost 1 precent, after they all went ex-dividend.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is lower against the U.S. dollar on Friday. The local currency was quoted at $0.7033, down from $0.7055 on Thursday.

The Japanese market is declining despite the late-stage recovery on Wall Street, as investors booked profits after two straight days of gains and also digested a raft of mixed local economic data. In addition, a stronger yen weighed on exporters' shares.

The Nikkei 225 Index is losing 100.44 points or 0.50 percent to 19,977.18, after falling to a low of 19,913.78 in early trade. Japanese shares rose on Thursday, extending gains for a second consecutive session.

The major exporters are mostly weak as the safe-haven yen strengthened. Sony is declining 1 percent, Mitsubishi Electric is lower by 0.3 percent and Panasonic is edging down 0.1 percent, while Canon is edging up 0.1 percent.

In the tech sector, Advantest is higher by more than 2 percent and Tokyo Electron is adding 0.1 percent. Among the major automakers, Honda is down 0.5 percent and Toyota is lower by 0.1 percent.

In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is adding 0.2 percent, while Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is down 0.4 percent. In the oil space, Inpex is declining almost 1 percent and Japan Petroleum is losing 0.4 percent.

Shares of NEC Corp. are losing more than 1 percent after the company said Thursday that it will acquire Danish information technology company KMD for about 136 billion yen.

Among the other major gainers, Furukawa Electric is gaining almost 5 percent, while Okuma Corp., Fujikura and Mitsui Mining & Smelting are all rising almost 4 percent each.

On the flip side, J Front Retailing is losing almost 6 percent, while FamilyMart UNY Holdings and Recruit Holdings are lower by more than 4 percent each.

On the economic front, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said that the jobless rate in Japan came in at a seasonally adjusted 2.5 percent in November. That was above expectations for 2.4 percent, which would have been unchanged from the October reading.

The Ministry also said that overall consumer prices in the Tokyo region - considered a leading indicator for the nationwide trend - were up just 0.3 percent on year in December. That was shy of estimates for 0.5 percent and down from 0.8 percent in November.

Core CPI, which excludes volatile food prices, advanced an annual 0.9 percent - in line with expectations and down from 1.0 percent in the previous month.

Industrial production in Japan was down a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent on month in November. That exceeded expectations for a decline of 1.5 percent following the 2.9 percent jump in October.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 110 yen-range on Friday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Taiwan, Indonesia and Hong Kong are all modestly higher, while Malaysia is edging lower.

On Wall Street, stocks saw considerable weakness throughout much of the trading day on Thursday before staging a substantial recovery late in the session. Profit taking helped to drag stocks lower early in the day, while lingering concerns about the global economic outlook and the ongoing government shutdown also weighed on the markets.

After falling by more than 600 points, the Dow showed a substantial rebound before closing up 260.37 points or 1.1 percent at 23,138.82. The Nasdaq also rose 25.14 points or 0.4 percent to 6,579.49 and the S&P 500 advanced 21.13 points or 0.9 percent to 2,488.83.

The major European markets moved the downside on Thursday. While the German DAX Index plunged by 2.4 percent, the U.K.'sFTSE 100 Index tumbled by 1.5 percent and the French CAC 40 Index dropped by 0.6 percent.

Crude oil futures declined sharply on Thursday, a day after rebounding from near 18-month lows. WTI crude for February fell $1.61 or 3.5 percent to close at $44.61 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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