Cautious Trading Sees Asian Markets Mostly Lower

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Asian stock markets are mostly lower on Monday amid cautious trades with the weak cues from Wall Street on Friday and geopolitical tensions following the U.S.-led strikes on Syria dampening investor sentiment. Nevertheless, higher commodity prices lifted resources stocks. Crude oil prices eased in Asian trades after gaining on Friday.

The Australian market is modestly higher in cautious trades as higher commodity prices helped offset the weak cues from Wall Street on Friday as well as worries about geopolitical tensions after the U.S.-led attacks on Syria.

In late-morning trades, the S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 14.00 points or 0.24 percent to 5,843.10, off a high of 5,845.70 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 12.10 points or 0.20 percent to 5,936.80.

The major miners are higher amid higher iron ore prices. BHP Billiton is advancing more than 1 percent, Rio Tinto is adding almost 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is up 0.4 percent.

Oil stocks are also gaining after crude oil prices posted their largest weekly gain in almost a year. Oil Search and Woodside Petroleum are adding more than 1 percent each, while Santos is rising almost 1 percent.

In the banking sector, ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac are higher in a range of 0.1 percent to 0.6 percent.

Gold miners are mixed despite higher gold prices. Evolution Mining is adding 0.2 percent, while Newcrest Mining is lower by 0.2 percent.

Transurban said that average daily traffic on its roads and tunnels in Sydney and Melbourne rose more than 3 percent in the March quarter. The toll road operator's shares are up 0.3 percent.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is lower against the U.S. dollar on Monday. The local unit was trading at US$0.7774, down from US$0.7790 on Friday.

The Japanese market pared early gains and is modestly higher as fears of a wider conflict between the U.S. and Russia over Syria eased. Meanwhile, the safe-haven yen strengthened as polls showed waning support for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 42.10 points or 0.19 percent to 21,820.84, off a high of 21,879.69 earlier.

The major exporters are mixed. Sony is adding almost 1 percent and Canon is rising 0.4 percent, while Mitsubishi Electric is down almost 1 percent and Panasonic is down 0.1 percent.

In the tech space, Advantest is down almost 1 percent, while Tokyo Electron is rising almost 1 percent.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is adding 0.2 percent and Honda is rising 0.1 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is lower 0.5 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is declining 1 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is down 0.2 percent, while Japan Petroleum Exploration is adding 0.1 percent amid higher crude oil prices.

Among the market's best performers, FamilyMart UNY Holdings is gaining 3 percent, while Recruit Holdings, Chiyoda Corp and NH Foods are rising more than 2 percent each.

On the flip side, Toho Zinc is losing more than 2 percent, while Shin-Etsu Chemical, Mitsui Mining & Smelting and Mitsui Chemicals are declining more than 1 percent each.

On the economic front, Japan will release March figures for Tokyo condominium sales today.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the lower 107 yen-range on Monday.

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

On Wall Street, stocks closed lower on Friday after seeing initial strength as traders reacted positively to earnings news from U.S. banking giants. However, buying interest waned shortly after the open with traders reluctant to make significant moves ahead of a slew of earnings news next week. In addition, a report from the University of Michigan showed a bigger than expected drop in consumer sentiment in the month of April.

The Dow slid 122.91 points or 0.5 percent to 24,360.14, the Nasdaq dropped 33.60 points or 0.5 percent to 7,106.65 and the S&P 500 fell 7.69 points or 0.3 percent to 2,656.30.

The major European markets moved modestly higher on Friday. While the German DAX Index rose by 0.2 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index both inched up by 0.1 percent.

Crude oil futures surged this week amid expectations OPEC has re-balanced the oil markets with its supply quota plan. Tensions in Syria and fears of a wider conflict including the U.S. and Russia also boosted oil prices. WTI crude added $0.32 or 0.5 percent to settle at $67.39 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, for a weekly advance of 8.8 percent.