Moneycontrol
Apr 12, 2017 07:30 AM IST | Source: CNBC

Asia mostly lower, Korean peninsula tensions in focus; Nikkei down 1.2%

Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.19 percent. The Nikkei share average is trading at its lowest since December last year. The ASX 200 dipped 0.05 percent while the Kospi was marginally higher and trading 0.07 percent higher.

Asian markets were mostly lower on Wednesday, as tensions continue to ratchet up on the Korean Peninsula following a warning from North Korea of a nuclear attack on the US.

North Korean state media said on Tuesday that the hermit state was watching every move made by "enemy elements" and that its "nuclear sight (was) focused on the US invasionary bases."

The development takes place as a US aircraft carrier group makes its way toward the western Pacific following multiple missile launches from North Korea earlier in this year.

US President Donald Trump said in a tweet that "North Korea is looking for trouble," adding that the US would solve the problem with or without the help of China.

Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.19 percent. The Nikkei share average is trading at its lowest since December last year. The ASX 200 dipped 0.05 percent while the Kospi was marginally higher and trading 0.07 percent higher.

In mainland Chinese markets, the Shanghai Composite was down 0.38 percent and the Shenzhen Composite was lower by 0.325 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index was in similar territory, declining by 0.31 percent.

Demand for safe-haven assets has surged in reaction to geopolitical uncertainty, with spot gold prices reaching their highest level since November 2016. Spot gold traded higher by 0.29 percent at USD 1,277.76 an ounce at 9:33 HK/SIN time.

"The global macro picture has been muddied by a rise in geopolitical tensions, economic data releases overnight have been largely ignored and safe haven assets have outperformed," said National Australia Bank currency strategist Rodrigo Catril said in a Wednesday morning note.

Meanwhile, US 10-year Treasury yields traded at 2.28 percent, below the 2.3 percent lower range band it had been trading at since last December.

"Traders are eyeing ... whether the US 10-year Treasury could close through 2.3 percent and the bottom of the multi-month trading range. That concern has materialized with the close at 2.29 percent, ... one suspects a more convincing break here takes the yield down to 2 percent," IG's chief market strategist Chris Weston said in a note.

The flight to safety also saw the yen climb to its highest level in around 5 months. The dollar/yen traded at 109.65 at 9:35 HK/SIN time, after trading at the 111 level earlier in the week. The dollar was lower at 100.65 against a basket of currencies, off the 3-week high set on Monday, while the Aussie traded at USD 0.7488, its lowest level since mid-January this year.

In corporate news, troubled Japanese conglomerate Toshiba filed results on Tuesday without a sign-off from its auditors, after twice-delaying the release in previous months. Toshiba also warned that future survival of the company was in doubt. The company's shares were down 2.19 percent.

On the energy front, oil prices were marginally higher after Saudi Arabia informed OPEC officials that it intends to continue output cuts for six more months, according to reports. Brent crude rose 0.34 percent to trade at USD 56.42 a barrel while US crude rose 0.36 percent to trade at USD 53.59.

The rise in oil prices also comes after the American Petroleum Institute estimated on Tuesday that crude inventories had fallen by 1.3 million barrels in the week ending April 7, compared to the 87,000 barrel increase expected by analysts.

Official data from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday will be closely watched for confirmation, or divergence. Last week API reported a draw in crude stocks, while EIA reported a build.

Stateside, equities closed lower as investors continued to focus on geopolitical tensions in the Korean peninsula. The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 0.03 percent or 6.72 points to close at 20,651.3, the S&P 500 was lower by 0.14 percent or 3.38 points to finish at 2,353.78 and the Nasdaq declined 0.24 percent or 14.15 points to finish at 5,866.77.

China reported annual consumer prices rose 0.9 percent in March, a tick below the 1.0 percent gain seen. Singapore reports February retail sales figures later in the day.
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