Asia Markets: Asian markets mixed as investors seek direction

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Asian markets were mixed in modest trading Friday, as investors sought direction amid a rare quiet news day on the geopolitical front.

Speaking in Washington on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence expressed hope for a phase-one trade deal, and said the U.S. “will continue to negotiate in good faith with China.” Pence pointed out that China was a “strategic and economic rival,” though, and sharply criticized its actions to curb civil rights in Hong Kong and mainland China. There were no other major trade developments.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would seek a general election in December to break the Brexit deadlock, but it’s uncertain if he can win Parliament’s support for the vote.

Japan’s Nikkei NIK, +0.01%  gave up early gains after Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara resigned after just a month on the job. Sugawara has been grilled in Parliament recently concerning a scandal over condolence money allegedly being offered to election supporters.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI, -0.41%   fell 0.4%, while the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP, -0.01%   slipped 0.2% and the smaller-cap Shenzhen Composite 399106, +0.27%   rose slightly. South Korea’s Kospi 180721, +0.06%   was about flat, while benchmark indexes in Taiwan Y9999, -0.20%  , Singapore STI, +0.41%   and Indonesia JAKIDX, -0.45%   were mixed. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 XJO, +0.65%   gained 0.6%.

Among individual stocks, SoftBank 9984, -1.60%   fell in Tokyo trading, as did convenience-store chain FamilyMart 8028, -2.02%  , while Screen Holdings 7735, +3.42%   gained. In Hong Kong, CSPC Pharmaceutical 1093, +2.43%   rose, along with CNOOC 883, +0.83%  , while AAC 2018, -1.23%   and Ping An Insurance 2318, -3.33%   declined. LG Electronics 066570, -1.59%   fell in South Korea while SK Hynix 000660, +2.75%   surged. Retailer Woolworths WOW, +0.99%   gained in Australia.

Traders have braced for weaker results this earnings season amid concerns about the costly trade war between the U.S. and China, and increased signs of slowing economic growth worldwide. Earnings reports in the last couple of weeks have mostly exceeded Wall Street analysts’ modest expectations.

After moving sideways for much of the day, the S&P 500 SPX, +0.19%   added 5.77 points, or 0.2%, to 3,010.29. The index is now within 0.6% of its all-time high set July 26. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.11%   dropped 28.42 points, or 0.1%, to 26,805.53. The Nasdaq COMP, +0.81%  , which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, climbed 66 points, or 0.8%, to 8,185.80.

“The past week saw most major share markets push higher helped by generally good U.S. earnings reports, benign geopolitical news and optimism that global recession will be avoided,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital.

Benchmark crude oil CLZ19, -0.50%   dipped 35 cents to $55.88 a barrel. It rose 26 cents to $56.23 a barrel Thursday. Brent crude oil BRNZ19, -0.44%  , the international standard, lost 37 cents to $61.30 a barrel.

The dollar USDJPY, +0.04%   was little changed, including up to 108.65 Japanese yen from 108.64 yen on Thursday.