By V. Phani Kumar, MarketWatch
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — Japanese stocks fell Friday on caution ahead of the month’s end and a long weekend in the U.S., while Australian and South Korean shares ended higher after a positive lead from Wall Street.
Several major resource shares pulling back after commodity prices dropped on eased worries about a military confrontation in Syria.
Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.70% dropped 0.9%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -2.19% China’s Shanghai Composite /zigman2/quotes/210598127/delayed CN:SHCOMP -0.57% edged up 0.1%, and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -2.43% climbed 0.3%.
All four benchmarks changed direction at least once during the morning.
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Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -0.11% climbed 1%.
“Perhaps the fact that the U.S. is in for a long weekend with markets closed for Labor Day on Monday and as well being the last day of the trading month means that moves tend to be disjointed, with some rebalancing taking place,” said Stan Shamu, a strategist at IG Markets.
Major regional benchmarks also diverged in their weekly performance, with the Nikkei sliding 2% and the Hang Seng Index dropping 0.6%, while the Kospi, Shanghai Composite and the S&P/ASX 200 gained 3%, 2% and 0.2%, respectively.
Friday’s performance in Asia came after stocks on Wall Street advanced overnight as data showing the U.S. economy expanded more rapidly than previously thought in the second quarter trumped concerns that the upbeat data may lead the Federal Reserve to reduce the pace of its bond purchases soon.
U.S. markets are due to close Monday for the Labor Day holiday.
Oil and metal prices dropped, meanwhile, on expectations the U.S. and its allies weren’t likely to immediately launch a military strike against Syria, where pro-government forces reportedly used chemical weapons against civilians recently.
“News that the U.K. House of Commons has voted against military action in Syria, and reports that the U.S. is finding it difficult to marshal conclusive evidence that the [Syrian] regime was directly responsible for chemical attacks, have seen the risk premium in markets like gold and oil wound back,” said CMC Markets chief market analyst Ric Spooner.
In the resources sector, Inpex Corp. /zigman2/quotes/206689846/delayed JP:1605 +0.17% /zigman2/quotes/206936121/delayed IPXHF -50.55% dropped 2% in Tokyo, and Cnooc Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/203421416/delayed HK:883 -1.23% /zigman2/quotes/204964401/lastsale CEO -2.45% shed 0.8% in Hong Kong, while in Shanghai, PetroChina Co. /zigman2/quotes/206980083/delayed CN:601857 -1.52% /zigman2/quotes/205108732/lastsale PTR -1.81% and Zijin Mining Group Co. /zigman2/quotes/204517000/delayed HK:2899 -2.40% /zigman2/quotes/209836076/delayed ZIJMF +2.56% declined 1.1% each.
Shares of Rio Tinto Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/200083756/delayed AU:RIO -2.77% /zigman2/quotes/202627887/lastsale RIO -3.05% inched up 0.1% in Sydney, less than the broader market, after The Australian newspaper reported the miner has delayed targeted production at the Simandou iron-ore project in Guinea by three years, as African development plans made during boom years continue to unwind.
Shares of Evolution Mining Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/206059650/delayed AU:EVN +6.92% /zigman2/quotes/202081844/delayed CAHPF +6.09% gained 3.3% as the gold producer said it still plans to pay a year-end dividend despite swinging to a full-year net loss.
U.K. faces pushback to committing to Syria military action
British Prime Minister David Cameron appeared to hit a snag in his ability to commit the U.K. to immediate military action in Syria, an early sign of the pushback Western governments may face from the public.
Most Chinese banking shares suffered broad losses amid worries that bad loans could rise in coming quarters, although two of the nation’s largest lenders — Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/201401473/delayed HK:1398 -2.45% /zigman2/quotes/202401350/delayed IDCBY -3.98% and Bank of China Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/204682472/delayed HK:3988 -1.01% /zigman2/quotes/201568493/delayed BACHY -1.62% — posted an increase in half-yearly profits.
Shares of BOC declined 0.6% and China Construction Bank Corp. /zigman2/quotes/208974133/delayed HK:939 -2.05% /zigman2/quotes/207732534/delayed CICHY -3.83% lost 0.4% in Hong Kong, although ICBC overcame early losses to finish 0.6% higher.
The retreat in Tokyo came even as official data released before the stock market opening in Tokyo showed core consumer prices in the country, a measure that excludes volatile fresh-food prices, climbed 0.7% in July from the year-ago month.
The data provided evidence the Bank of Japan’s unprecedented monetary easing was yielding results in its attempt to pull the nation from an era of falling prices.