Asian Markets In Positive Territory

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Asian stock markets are in positive territory on Thursday as concerns about a global trade war eased after the White House indicated that some countries could be exempt from President Donald Trump's planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Better-than-expected regional economic data also boosted investor sentiment.

The Australian market is advancing as worries about a trade war eased. Resources stocks are mostly higher despite weaker commodity prices.

In late-morning trades, the S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 25.60 points or 0.43 percent to 5,927.60, off a high of 5,931.90. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 26.20 points or 0.44 percent to 6,031.60.

The big four banks - ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank - are higher in a range of 0.2 percent to 0.9 percent.

In the mining sector, BHP Billiton is declining 2 percent after its shares went ex-dividend, while Rio Tinto is adding almost 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is rising more than 1 percent despite iron ore prices falling for the fourth straight day.

Oil stocks are also mostly higher despite crude oil prices falling overnight. Oil Search is adding 0.4 percent and Woodside Petroleum is edging up less than 0.1 percent, Santos is declining 0.5 percent.

Meanwhile, gold miner Evolution Mining is losing more than 1 percent and Newcrest Mining is down 0.3 percent after gold prices slipped overnight.

Shares of Northern Star Resources are declining 0.2 percent after the gold miner said it has agreed to acquire the South Kalgoorlie gold mine from Westgold Resources for A$80 million.

In economic news, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that Australia had a merchandise trade surplus of A$1.055 billion in January. That blew away forecasts for a surplus of A$200 million following the upwardly revised A$1.146 billion deficit in December.

Exports gained 4.0 percent on month to $33.924 billion, while imports sank 2.0 percent to A$32.869 billion.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is higher against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. The local unit was quoted at US$0.7821, up from US$0.7801 on Wednesday.

The Japanese market is rising and the safe-haven yen weakened as fears about a trade war eased. Better-than-expected Japanese economic data, including GDP growth, also bolstered investor sentiment.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 184.61 points or 0.87 percent to 21,437.33, off a high of 21,488.16 in early trades.

The major exporters are gaining on a weaker yen. Sony and Mitsubishi Electric are rising more than 1 percent, Panasonic is adding 0.6 percent and Canon is up 0.3 percent. SoftBank is advancing more than 1 percent.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is higher by 0.4 percent, while Honda is rising more than 1 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is rising more than 1 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is adding almost 1 percent.

Steel makers Japan Steel Works and Kobe Steel are gaining more than 2 percent each, while Nippon Steel is adding almost 1 percent as worries about a trade war eased.

In the oil space, Inpex is adding 0.4 percent and Japan Petroleum Exploration is advancing almost 1 percent despite crude oil prices falling overnight.

Among the market's best performers, Eisai Co. is gaining more than 8 percent, Tokyo Electron is rising almost 5 percent and Furukawa Electric is higher by 4 percent.

On the flip side, Kao Corp. is losing 3 percent, Komatsu is declining almost 2 percent and Shiseido Co. is lower by more than 1 percent.

On the economic front, Japan's gross domestic product advanced a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2017, the Cabinet Office said in Thursday's revision. That exceeded expectations for an increase of 0.2 percent after last month's preliminary reading suggested a gain of 0.1 percent.

The Bank of Japan said that the value of overall bank lending in Japan was up 2.1 percent on year in February, coming in at 521.735 trillion yen. That follows the downwardly revised 2.3 percent increase in January and exceeded expectations for an increase of 0.2 percent after last month's preliminary reading suggested a gain of 0.1 percent.

The Ministry of Finance said that Japan had a current account surplus of 607.4 billion yen in January. That exceeded forecasts for a surplus of 437.4 billion yen following the 797.2 billion yen surplus in December.

The trade balance reflected a deficit of 666.6 billion yen, versus expectations for a shortfall of 691.0 billion yen following the 538.9 billion yen surplus in the previous month. Exports were up 12.7 percent on year to 6.226 trillion yen, while imports advanced an annual 8.1 percent to 6.893 trillion yen.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the lower 106 yen-range on Thursday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong is advancing more than 1 percent, while Singapore, South Korea, Shanghai, New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan are also higher.

On Wall Street, stocks closed mixed on Wednesday after White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders suggested Mexico and Canada could be exempt from President Donald Trump's planned tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Stocks initially came under pressure in reaction to news of the resignation of White House chief economic advisor Gary Cohn on Tuesday.

The Nasdaq rose 24.64 points or 0.3 percent to 7,396.65, but the Dow fell 82.76 points or 0.3 percent to 24,801.36 and the S&P 500 edged down 1.32 points or 0.1 percent to 2,726.80.

The major European markets moved to the upside on Wednesday. While the German DAX Index jumped by 1.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index rose by 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively.

Crude oil prices fell Wednesday after the government reported a second consecutive increase in U.S. oil inventories. WTI crude for April delivery plunged $1.45 or 2.3 percent to $61.15 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.