By Ese Erheriene
Asian equities held broadly held steady on Wednesday, mirroring a lack of risk appetite in the U.S. overnight, as global markets continued to drift.
Markets have been stuck in range-bound trading for much of the week as traders await further clues from the Federal Reserve and U.S. President Donald Trump on the country’s monetary- and fiscal-policy outlooks.
The Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.39% fell 0.5%, opening lower for the fourth straight session, after disappointing economic data. Broad declines were seen across Japanese stocks, with 27 of 33 Topix subindexes lower.
Elsewhere, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.62% edged down less than 0.1%, South Korea‘s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 +0.39% rose 0.1% and Singapore’s Straits Times Index /zigman2/quotes/210597985/delayed SG:STI -0.53% gained 0.5%.
Kim Jong Nam's son speaks out on father's killing
The son of Kim Jong Nam, the slain half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has appeared in a video posted online by a mysterious advocacy group. Photo: AFP/Getty
Hong Kong stocks shrugged off China’s surprise swing to a trade deficit, with the Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.60% gaining 0.4%. China’s trade deficit was 60.36 billion yuan ($8.75 billion) in February, reversing from a surplus of 354.53 billion yuan in January.
The Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598127/delayed CN:SHCOMP -0.96% shed 0.1%. The midday break took place before the trade data was released Wednesday. The latest data from China showed an increase in trade activity.
“The latest trade data suggest that, seasonal distortions aside, both exports and imports strengthened at the start of 2017,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.
Meanwhile, investors in Japan were likely worried about a possible pullback in U.S. stocks after their recent string of record highs. Overnight, the Dow Jones Industrial Average /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +0.17% slipped 0.1%, while both the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.06% and Nasdaq /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP -0.87% ended down 0.3%.
Japan’s economy grew at a faster pace than initially estimated in the quarter ended December, data released Wednesday showed, with firms ramping up investment amid an initial surge of optimism over the Trump administration’s possible policies. The Japanese economy grew at an annualized pace of 1.2% from the previous quarter, compared with the government’s preliminary estimate of 1.0%, but economists had expected an upward revision to an expansion of around 1.6%.
“Japanese GDP, despite being an upgrade, it’s still disappointing a little bit,” said Christoffer Moltke-Leth, director of global sales trading at Saxo Capital Markets.
Among the bright spots, Toshiba /zigman2/quotes/205628942/delayed JP:6502 +1.20% shares climbed 2.2%, lifted by a Nikkei report that Chinese electronics maker Midea /zigman2/quotes/207665926/delayed CN:000333 -0.07% is interested in investing in the Japan firm’s semiconductor unit.
Toshiba’s shares were also supported by speculation that some short positions would have to be covered once Toshiba is removed from the Topix, a stock index popular among the passive investors who often lend shares to short-sellers, noted Kobata at Matsui Securities.
Looking ahead, investors will be watching for the European Central Bank’s interest rate decision on Thursday and the U.S. nonfarm payroll number on Friday, both of which could send ripples across global markets.