Asian Markets Mostly Lower Amid Cautious Trades

Asian stock markets are mostly lower on Friday amid cautious trades despite the record closing highs overnight on Wall Street. Worries about post-Brexit trade talks emerged after a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was likely no agreement would be reached unless the European Union’s position changed “substantially”.

The rising number of coronavirus cases in parts of Asia and around the world also weighed on the markets.

The Australian market is declining despite the record closing highs on Wall Street. Investor sentiment was also dampened after a new coronavirus cluster in New South Wales grew to 28 cases, prompting Queensland as well as Western Australia to tighten interstate travel restrictions.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is declining 47.60 points or 0.70 percent to 6,709.10, after touching a low of 6,701.10. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 46.10 points or 0.66 percent to 6,954.00. Australian stocks closed higher on Thursday for a second straight session.

Among the major miners, Fortescue Metals is advancing more than 1 percent, while Rio Tinto is declining 0.5 percent and BHP Group is down 0.2 percent each.

Rio Tinto said it has appointed chief financial officer Jakob Stausholm as its new chief executive officer, succeeding Jean-Sebastien Jacques who resigned in September following the destruction by Rio Tinto of the sacred Aboriginal caves in Western Australia.

In the banking sector, National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank and Westpac are lower in a range of 1.2 percent to 1.8 percent, while ANZ Banking is down 0.5 percent.

Oil stocks are weak even as crude oil prices hit a nearly ten-month high overnight. Oil Search is losing almost 3 percent, Santos is lower by more than 1 percent and Woodside Petroleum is down 0.2 percent.

Meanwhile, gold miners are rising after gold prices climbed to a six-week high overnight. Evolution Mining is advancing more than 2 percent and Newcrest Mining is adding more than 1 percent.

The Japanese market is edging lower on Friday despite the record closing highs overnight on Wall Street. Worries about the surging coronavirus cases in Japan weighed on the market.

Investors also turned cautious ahead of the Bank of Japan’s monetary policy decision due later today. The BoJ is widely expected to keep its benchmark lending rate unchanged at -0.1 percent.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is down 12.43 points or 0.05 percent to 26,794.24, after falling to a low of 26,754.29 earlier. The Japanese market closed modestly higher on Thursday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group is advancing more than 1 percent and Fast Retailing is adding 0.3 percent. In the tech space, Tokyo Electron is lower by more than 2 percent, while Advantest is rising more than 2 percent.

The major exporters are mostly higher on a weaker yen. Sony is rising more than 3 percent, Canon is higher by more than 2 percent and Panasonic is adding almost 1 percent, while Mitsubishi Electric is down 0.3 percent.

Among automakers, Honda is advancing almost 2 percent, while Toyota is down almost 1 percent. In the banking sector, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is higher by almost 1 percent and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is adding 0.4 percent.

Among the other major gainers, Pacific Metals is gaining almost 6 percent, Mitsui E&S is rising more than 5 percent and Japan Steel Works is higher by more than 4 percent.

Conversely, Secom Co. and Daikin Industries are losing more than 2 percent each, while Kikkoman Corp. and Keisei Electric Railway are lower by almost 2 percent each.

In economic news, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said that overall consumer prices in Japan were down 0.9 percent on year in November. That was roughly in line with expectations following the 0.4 percent decline in October.

Core CPI, which excludes volatile food prices, also sank an annual 0.9 percent – again roughly matching forecasts following the 0.7 percent drop in the previous month.
In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the lower 103 yen-range on Friday.

Elsewhere in Asia, New Zealand is losing more than 2 percent and Malaysia is lower by more than 1 percent, while Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia are also lower. Shanghai, South Korea, Taiwan are little changed.

On Wall Street, stocks closed at record highs on Thursday, with lawmakers signaling progress toward an agreement on a new relief package. Following a meeting with other congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., said the talks have made “major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that would be able to pass both chambers with bipartisan majorities.” The positive sentiment was partly offset by a report from the Labor Department showing an unexpected increase in first-time claims for U.S. unemployment benefits in the week ended December 12.

The Dow rose 148.83 points or 0.5 percent to 30,303.37, the Nasdaq advanced 106.56 points or 0.8 percent to 12,764.75 and the S&P 500 climbed 21.31 points or 0.6 percent to 3,722.48.

Meanwhile, the major European markets ended mixed on Thursday. While the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index fell by 0.3 percent, the French CAC 40 Index closed just above the unchanged line and the German DAX Index advanced by 0.8 percent.

Crude oil prices extended gains to a fourth session and hit a nearly 10-month closing high on Thursday. WTI crude for January ended higher by $0.54 or about 1.1 percent at $48.36 a barrel.

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