Stock Market

Asia mixed in early trade; Nikkei up 1.2%, ASX down 0.4%

Asia markets were mixed in early trade Wednesday morning, shrugging off modest US losses from Tuesday. Traders await a speech from President Donald Trump to a joint session of the US Congress in which remarks on tax and spending policies will be key against a backdrop of heightened Fed rate hike views.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 traded up 1.21 percent, while the Topix gained 0.99 percent. Japanese export stocks received a boost from a relatively weaker yen that traded at 113.14 to the dollar at 8:17 a.m. HK/SIN, weakening from levels below 112.20.

Among key exporters, Toyota shares rose 1.37 percent, Sony shares were up 1.32 percent and Panasonic added 1.42 percent.

In Australia, stocks opened lower with the ASX 200 was down 0.36 percent in morning trade. Banking stocks were mostly down — ANZ shares fell 0.16 percent, Commonwealth Bank of Australia was down 0.27 percent, Westpac off by 0.21 percent and the National Australia Bank slid 0.16 percent. Fourth quarter GDP rose at a 2.4% annual pace, beating an expected gain of 1.9%.

The South Korean market is closed for a public holiday.

Trump is scheduled to speak to a joint US Congress session Tuesday night local time, where the market will be listening closely for clues or details regarding the administration’s plans on tax reform and deregulation.

“Markets are hungry for detail on the new Administration’s economic policy but at the end of the day will probably be prepared to settle for a confident outlining of the general agenda at this stage,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a Fed interest rate hike in March gained further momentum on Tuesday when New York Fed President William Dudley said on CNN International that the “case for monetary tightening has become more compelling.” Dudley is viewed as a close ally of Fed Chair Janet Yellen and is a central figure in the Federal Open Market Committee.

“Through its recent communication, the Fed is sending a strong signal for a March hike,” said Thomas Julien, a US economist at French investment bank Natixis. “As a result, the implied market probability surged to a level that is high enough to allow the Fed to move at the next meeting without creating a surprise.”

The dollar index climbed to 101.45 at 8:17 a.m. HK/SIN on Wednesday, up from levels near 100.8, on the back of Dudley’s comments.

Kathy Lien, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management, said, “Fed speak has been very consistent and it’s only a matter of time before the dollar responds appropriately.”

But, she said, the greenback wasn’t out of the woods yet, suggesting that Trump’s speech to Congress could potentially derail the currency.

Most other currencies slipped against the greenback. The Australian dollar fell 0.2 percent to USD 0.7643; the euro was down 0.11 percent at USD 1.0563; and the British pound was down fractionally at USD 1.2371.

The strong dollar also pushed gold lower, with spot gold down 0.28 percent at USD 1,245.01 per ounce. That pushed gold miners in Australia lower — shares of Newcrest fell 2.26 percent, Evolution Mining was down 1.39 percent and Alacer Gold dropped 3.11 percent.