Asian Markets Mostly Lower


Asian stock markets are mostly lower and the safe-haven yen strengthened on Monday following the mixed cues from Wall Street Friday as investors worried about the impact of U.S. tariffs on global trade, while the euro fluctuated after Italian exit polls pointed to a hung parliament.

The Australian market is lower for the fourth straight session amid concerns about the impact of the U.S. government's decision to impose tariffs on its trading partners. Investors also digested mixed local economic data.

In late-morning trades, the S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 13.20 points or 0.22 percent to 5,915.70, off a low of 5,903.40. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 10.50 points or 0.17 percent to 6,017.90.

In the mining sector, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals are losing more than 1 percent each, while Rio Tinto is declining almost 1 percent.

Gold miners are also weak despite the price of safe-haven gold advancing. Evolution Mining is lower by almost 1 percent and Newcrest Mining is down less than 0.1 percent.

Oil stocks are also mostly lower despite crude oil prices rising on Friday. Oil Search is edging down less than 0.1 percent and Santos is lower by 0.5 percent, while Woodside Petroleum is adding 0.7 percent.

The big four banks - ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank - are lower in a range of 0.3 percent to 0.9 percent.

Job advertiser Seek Ltd. said it will buy News Corp.'s 13.75 percent stake in Seek Asia for A$157 million and become its sole owner. Seek's shares are rising almost 1 percent.

Austal has won a A$68 million contract to design and build a ferry that will run between Japan and South Korea. The shipbuilder's shares are unchanged.

In economic news, the latest survey from the Australian Industry Group revealed that the service sector in Australia continued to expand in February, albeit at a slower pace, with a Performance of Service Index score of 54.0. That's down from 54.9, although it remains well above the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said that company operating profits in Australia advanced a seasonally adjusted 2.2 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2017. That topped expectations for an increase of 1.5 percent following the 0.2 percent decline in the three months prior.

The ABS also said that the total number of building approvals issued in Australia was up a seasonally adjusted 17.1 percent on month in January, coming in at 19,851. That topped expectations for an increase of 5.0 percent following the 0.2 percent gain in December.

The latest survey from TD Securities and the Melbourne Institute revealed that consumer prices in Australia are predicted to slow in February, with prices expected to ease 0.1 percent on month. That follows the 0.3 percent monthly increase in January.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar fell against the U.S. dollar on Monday. The local unit was quoted at US$0.7749, down from US$0.7761 on Friday.

The Japanese market is extending losses from Friday's session and the safe-haven yen strengthened amid worries about a global trade war.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 118.71 points or 0.56 percent to 21,062.93, off a low of 21,003.62 earlier.

The major exporters are weak. Canon is down 1 percent, while Sony, Mitsubishi Electric and Panasonic are all losing more than 1 percent each. SoftBank is also lower by more than 1 percent.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is down more than 1 percent and Honda is declining almost 2 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial are both losing almost 1 percent each.

Among steel makers, Nisshin Steel is adding 0.2 percent, while Kobe Steel is losing almost 2 percent and JFE Holdings is losing more than 2 percent, extending losses from Friday.

In the oil space, Inpex is rising 0.2 percent while Japan Petroleum Exploration is declining more than 1 percent despite crude oil prices rising on Friday.

Among the market's best performers, KDDI Corp. is rising 2 percent and Japan Tobacco is advancing almost 2 percent.

On the flip side, Mitsui Mining & Smelting is losing almost 5 percent, while Showa Denko, Tokai Carbon and Sumco Corp. are lower by more than 4 percent each.

In economic news, the latest survey from Nikkei showed that the services sector in Japan continued to expand in February, albeit at a slightly slower pace, with a services PMI score of 51.7. That's down from 51.9 in January, although it remains above the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

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

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

On Wall Street, stocks showed a significant turnaround on Friday after coming under pressure early in the session, with the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 climbing into positive territory. Bargain hunting may have contributed to the rebound, while the initial drop came as traders expressed concerns about the impact President Donald Trump's plans to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will have on global trade.

While the Dow fell 70.92 points or 0.3 percent to 24,538.06, the Nasdaq jumped 77.31 points or 1.1 percent to 7,257.87 and the S&P 500 climbed 13.58 points or 0.5 percent to 2,691.25.

The major European markets moved sharply lower on Friday. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index tumbled by 1.5 percent, the German DAX Index and the French CAC 40 Index plummeted by 2.3 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.

Crude oil prices rose Friday, supported by a weaker U.S. dollar and a modest increase in the number of U.S. oil rigs in operation. Crude oil futures added $0.26 or 0.4 percent to settle at $61.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, but posted the first weekly loss in three weeks.