Asian Shares End Choppy Session On Mixed Note

Asian stocks ended a choppy session on a mixed note on Wednesday as uncertainty lingered despite signs of a flattening coronavirus infection curve.

China’s Wuhan ended a two-month lockdown and Austria announced plans to reopen the country on April 14, helping limit the downside to some extent.

Chinese shares ended slightly lower as the government lifted restrictions on the movement of people in the central city of Wuhan, where Covid-19 was first reported in late December.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index slipped 5.39 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,815.37, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index slumped 282.92 points, or 1.2 percent to 23,970.37.

Meanwhile, Japanese shares rose for the third straight session as the declaration of a long-awaited emergency triggered short covering in shares of railway and department store operators.

The Nikkei 225 Index rallied 403.06 points, or 2.1 percent, to 19,353.24, while the broader Topix closed 1.6 percent higher at 1,425.47.

Odakyu Electric Railway, East Japan Railway and Tobu Railway surged 5-7 percent, while J.Front Retailing jumped 6.6 percent and Takashimaya rose 6.1 percent. Airline and healthcare stocks also posted strong gains.

In economic news, core machinery orders in Japan rose a seasonally adjusted 2.3 percent sequentially in February, the Cabinet Office said. That exceeded expectations for a decline of 2.9 percent following the 2.9 percent increase in January.

Another report showed that Japan had a current account surplus of 3,168.8 billion yen in February, up 21.2 percent year-on-year.

Australian markets ended a volatile session lower as S&P Global Ratings downgraded its outlook on the country from stable to negative.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index dropped 45.40 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,206.90, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended down 42.50 points, or 0.8 percent, at 5,258.80.

The big four banks fell 3-5 percent as Fitch Ratings cut its credit rating for the major lenders. Bank of Queensland declined 2.1 percent as it deferred dividend payments until “the economic outlook is clearer.”

Mining giant Rio Tinto shed 1.5 percent as it disclosed the details of the A$7.6 billion ($12.37 billion) worth of tax and royalties paid across its vast network of global businesses in 2019. Rival BHP gave up 1.2 percent.

Treasury Wine Estates rose half a percent on news it will consider de-merging its Penfolds wine business into a separate listed company.

The value of new loan commitments for housing in Australia fell 1.7 percent in February, official data showed today – confounding expectations for an increase of 2 percent. New loan commitments for both owner occupier housing and investor housing were down 1.7 percent and 1.9 percent respectively.

Seoul stocks ended lower to snap a four-day winning streak as both foreign and institutional investors offloaded large-cap shares on growing fears that the worldwide economic downturn could be especially deep and lengthy.

The benchmark Kospi ended down 16.46 points, or 0.9 percent, at 1,807.14 as coronavirus cases in the country rose to 10,331, with 192 deaths.

New Zealand shares advanced, with the benchmark NZX-50 Index rallying 2.3 percent to close above 10,000 for the first time in almost a month as investors welcomed signs of a slowing spread of the coronavirus.

The country reported 50 new cases of the deadly virus, down from both the 54 new cases on Tuesday and the 67 reported on Monday. Casino and hotel operator SkyCity Entertainment Group led the surge, jumping 8.8 percent to $1.97.

Retirement village operator Metlifecare plunged 17.4 percent after European buy-out firm EQT backed out of a $1.49 billion takeover offer for the company.

U.S. stocks ended a volatile session lower overnight as New York and New Jersey recorded one-day highs for coronavirus deaths.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped over 900 points before giving up all gains to end the session down 0.1 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite shed 0.3 percent and the S&P 500 dropped 0.2 percent.

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