Cautious Trading Sees Asian Markets Mostly Lower

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Asian stock markets are mostly lower on Monday despite the positive cues from Wall Street on Friday, with investors treading cautiously ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve's highly anticipated monetary policy decision due later in the week.

With the Fed widely expected to raise interest rates by 25 basis points, investors are likely to keep an eye on the accompanying statement for clues about whether the central bank will keep its current forecast for three rate hikes this year. New Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's first press conference is also likely to attract considerable attention.

The Australian market is modestly higher following the gains on Wall Street Friday and the jump in crude oil prices. Nevertheless, investors are cautious ahead of the Federal Reserve's monetary policy meeting.

In late-morning trades, the S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 10.00 points or 0.17 percent to 5,959.40, off a high of 5,982.50 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 8.60 points or 0.14 percent to 6,063.50.

The major miners are advancing. Rio Tinto is adding 1 percent, BHP Billiton is advancing almost 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is rising 0.2 percent.

Oil stocks are also higher after crude oil prices rose almost 2 percent Friday. Woodside Petroleum, Santos and Oil Search are all higher by almost 2 percent each.

Gold miners are gaining despite a fall in gold prices on Friday. Evolution Mining is advancing almost 2 percent and Newcrest Mining is rising 0.4 percent.

Among the big four banks, ANZ Banking and Westpac are edging down less than 0.1 percent each, while National Australia Bank is declining 0.3 percent. Commonwealth Bank is adding 0.3 percent.

Shares of Wesfarmers are declining almost 2 percent after rallying on Friday following the announcement that it will spin off its Coles supermarket division as a separate listed company.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is lower against the U.S. dollar on Monday. The local unit was quoted at US$0.7716, down from US$0.7793 on Friday.

The Japanese market is declining despite the positive cues from Wall Street and a weaker yen, as the political uncertainty in Japan following the widening favoritism scandal linked to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe weighed on investor sentiment. Investors are also cautious ahead of the Federal Reserve's monetary policy meeting.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is down 188.15 points or 0.87 percent to 21,488.36, off a low of 21,366.88 earlier.

The major exporters are weak as the yen strengthened. Sony is falling almost 5 percent and Panasonic is losing 2 percent, while Mitsubishi Electric and Canon are declining 1 percent.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is down 0.4 percent and Honda is losing almost 1 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is lower by almost 2 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is down almost 1 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is advancing 1 percent and Japan Petroleum Exploration is edging down less than 0.1 percent after crude oil prices rose almost 2 percent Friday.

Among the market's best performers, JGC Corp., Astellas Pharma, and Pacific Metals are advancing almost 2 percent each, while Kobe Steel is rising more than 1 percent.

On the flip side, Yaskawa Electric is declining almost 4 percent, while Marui Group and Haseko Corp. are down more than 3 percent each.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 105 yen-range on Monday.

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

On Wall Street, stocks closed higher on Friday, partly reflecting a positive reaction to reports showing an unexpected improvement in consumer sentiment and a bigger than expected jump in industrial production. Political uncertainty may have kept some traders on the sidelines amid reports President Donald Trump plans to remove national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

The Nasdaq inched up just 0.25 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 7,481.99. The Dow rose 72.85 points or 0.3 percent to 24,946.51, and the S&P 500 edged up 4.68 points or 0.2 percent to 2,751.01.

The major European markets also moved to the upside on Friday. While the German DAX Index climbed by 0.4 percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the French CAC 40 Index both closed up by 0.3 percent.

Crude oil prices rose Friday despite data showing the U.S. rig count continued to rise. April WTI oil gained $1.15 or 1.9 percent to settle at $62.34 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, picking up 0.5 percent for the week.