Asian Markets Mostly Lower As Trade Tensions Escalate

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Asian stock markets are mostly lower on Wednesday despite the overnight rebound on Wall Street as trade tensions between the U.S. and China escalated.

The U.S. has proposed imposing 25 percent tariffs on some 1,300 Chinese products, including industrial robots and telecommunications equipment, to try to force China to change its intellectual property practices. In response, China said it would "take corresponding measures of equal scale and strength against U.S. products."

The Australian market is modestly lower as U.S.-China trade tensions continued to simmer. Investors also digested mixed Australian economic data.

In late-morning trades, the S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 11.80 points or 0.21 percent to 5,740.10, off a low of 5,728.80 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 12.10 points or 0.21 percent to 5,847.00.

The major miners are mostly advancing. Fortescue Metals is rising more than 2 percent and Rio Tinto is adding 0.4 percent, while BHP Billiton is down 0.1 percent.

Gold miners are weak as gold prices declined overnight. Evolution Mining and Newcrest Mining are losing almost 1 percent each.

Oil stocks are also mostly lower after crude oil prices edged down overnight. Santos and Woodside Petroleum are down 0.2 percent each, while Oil Search is adding almost 1 percent.

In the banking space, ANZ Banking, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac are lower in a range of 0.1 percent to 0.5 percent, while National Australia Bank is adding 0.1 percent.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or ACCC has approved dairy processor Murray Goulburn's takeover as acquirer Saputo has agreed to offload Murray Goulburn's Koroit milk plant following the purchase. Shares of MG Unit Trust, Murray Goulburn's listed entity, are unchanged.

Australian Agricultural Company's shares are losing almost 9 percent after the beef producer forecast a statutory loss for the full year.

In economic news, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the total value of retail sales in Australia advanced a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent on month in February, standing at A$26.45 billion. That beat expectations for a gain of 0.3 percent and was up from 0.1 percent in January.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics also said that the total number of building approvals issued in Australia was down a seasonally adjusted 6.2 percent on month in February, standing at 18,671. That missed expectations for a decline of 5.0 percent following the 17.1 percent surge in January.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is slightly lower against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday. The local unit was trading at US$0.7682, down from US$0.7704 on Tuesday.

The Japanese market slipped into negative territory after opening higher as trade tensions between the U.S. and China escalated.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is down 32.27 points or 0.15 percent to 21,260.02, after rising in early trades.

In the tech space, Advantest is losing almost 1 percent and Tokyo Electron is down more than 1 percent.

The major exporters are higher on a weaker yen. Panasonic is gaining almost 3 percent, Sony is rising more than 1 percent, Mitsubishi Electric is adding almost 1 percent and Canon is up 0.3 percent.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is higher by 0.2 percent and Honda is adding more than 1 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial are declining more than 1 percent each.

In the oil space, Inpex is down 0.6 percent while Japan Petroleum Exploration is adding 0.3 percent.

Among the market's best performers, Seiko Epson is rising more than 3 percent, while Nichirei Corp, Isuzu Motors and Pioneer Corp. are all adding more than 2 percent each.

On the flip side, Tokai Carbon is losing more than 15 percent, Showa Denko is lower by more than 13 percent and Tosoh Corp. is down more than 6 percent.

In economic news, the latest survey from Nikkei revealed that Japan's service sector continued to expand in March, albeit at a slower pace, with a services PMI score of 50.9. That's down from 51.7 in February, although it remains above the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

The report also showed that the composite index sank to 51.3 in March from 52.2 in February.

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

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

On Wall Street, stocks rebounded on Tuesday after the previous session's sell-off on bargain hunting, as traders picked up stocks at reduced levels. The markets also benefited from a significant rebound by some technology stocks, including electric car maker Tesla.

The Dow soared 389.17 points or 1.7 percent to 24,033.36, the Nasdaq jumped 71.16 points or 1 percent to 6,941.28 and the S&P 500 surged up 32.57 points or 1.3 percent to 2,614.45.

The major European markets moved to the downside on Tuesday. While the German DAX Index slid by 0.8 percent, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the French CAC 40 Index dropped by 0.4 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively.

Crude oil prices rose slightly on Tuesday, ahead of U.S. energy inventories data from the American Petroleum Institute. Crude for May delivery climbed $0.50 to $63.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.