Asian Markets Drift Lower
CANBERA (dpa-AFX) - Asian stock markets pared early gains and are mostly lower on Thursday, tracking the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street and as the UK began the formal process of exiting the European Union. Meanwhile, crude oil prices edged lower in Asian trades after rallying to three-week highs overnight.
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May's historic letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was delivered to the European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, thus triggering the Brexit process. The formal process of exiting the EU must conclude in two years.
The Australian market is advancing for a third straight day, tracking higher commodity prices and the overnight gains in the U.S. energy sector.
In late-morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 23.30 points or 0.40 percent to 5,896.80, off a high of 5,898.40. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 21.40 points or 0.36 percent to 5,932.10. On Wednesday, the market rose to its highest level since late April 2015.
In the mining sector, Rio Tinto is adding almost 1 percent, BHP Billiton is advancing more than 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is gaining almost 2 percent, as iron ore prices held steady.
In the banking space, ANZ Banking, Westpac, National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank are higher in a range of 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent.
Meanwhile, Bank of Queensland's shares are down 0.5 percent after it reported a 2 percent decline in half-year profit, but projected a return to growth in the second half.
Oil stocks are mostly higher after crude oil prices rallied to three-week highs overnight. Woodside Petroleum is adding more than 1 percent and Oil Search is rising almost 1 percent, while Santos is lower by almost 1 percent.
Gold miners edged lower as gold prices fell overnight. Newcrest Mining is down almost 0.1 percent and Evolution Mining is losing 0.3 percent.
Thorn Group confirmed it has been served a class action claim alleging that the "Rent, Try$1 Buy" scheme of its Radio Rentals business was misleading and resulted in customers paying up to seven times the true retail cost of items rented by them. Shares of Thorn Group are losing almost 3 percent.
Myer Holdings disclosed that Solomon Lew's retail group Premier Investments has acquired a 10.77 percent stake in the department store chain. Shares of Myer are rising almost 3 percent.
On the economic front, Australia will see February figures for new home sales and job vacancies today.
In the currency market, the Australian dollar is higher against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. In early trades, the local unit was trading at US$0.7668, up from US$0.7643 on Wednesday.
The Japanese market is modestly lower following the lackluster cues from Wall Street and on a stronger yen.
In late-morning trades, the benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 52.07 points or 0.27 percent to 19,165.41, off a low of 19,145.63 earlier.
The major exporters are higher despite a stronger yen. Sony and Panasonic are rising almost 1 percent each, while Canon is adding more than 1 percent.
Shares of Toshiba are advancing almost 3 percent ahead of an extraordinary shareholders meeting later today. Toshiba's Westinghouse Electric unit filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday.
Automaker Toyota is adding 0.2 percent, while Honda is losing 0.5 percent. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is down 0.7 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is lower b 0.4 percent each.
In the oil space, Inpex is higher by almost 2 percent and JX Holdings is rising more than 2 percent.
Among the other major gainers, Toho Zinc is rising more than 4 percent, while Sumco Corp. and Dowa Holdings are gaining almost 3 percent each. On the flip side, Ube Industries, Unitika and Toyobo Co, are down 3 percent each.
In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded in the lower 111 yen-range on Thursday.
Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Malaysia are all lower, while New Zealand and Taiwan are modestly higher.
On Wall Street, stocks closed mixed on Wednesday as traders seemed reluctant to make any significant moves amid continued uncertainty about President Donald Trump's policy agenda following the failure of the Republican health care bill.
Developments in the UK were also in focus after the British government sent a notification letter to European Council President Donald Tusk formally beginning the country's exit from the European Union.
While the Dow edged down 42.18 points or 0.2 percent to 20,659.32, the Nasdaq rose 22.41 points or 0.4 percent to 5,897.55 and the S&P 500 inched up 2.56 points or 0.1 percent to 2,361.13.
The major European markets moved to the upside on Wednesday. While the French CAC 40 Index advanced by 0.5 percent, the German DAX Index and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index both rose by 0.4 percent.
Crude oil futures rallied to three-week highs Wednesday after data showed a smaller than expected build in U.S. crude oil inventories. WTI crude for May delivery jumped $1.14 or 2.4 percent to $49.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In Asian trades, crude oil slipped $0.04 or 0.08 percent to $49.47.
Copyright RTT News/dpa-AFX