By Kenan Machado
A weaker yen helped nudge Japan’s Nikkei higher Wednesday morning, even as traders in Asia braced for a tightening tilt from the U.S. Federal Reserve with a speech from Chairwoman Janet Yellen due Friday, contributing to the mixed equities performance elsewhere in the region.
The Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.87% traded 0.5% higher, moderating early gains made on the back of a weaker yen due to the U.S. dollar’s broad strength. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -0.61% added 0.1%, while the South Korea Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -0.11% was down 0.3%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI -1.16% fell 0.6%, with the Shanghai Composite Index /zigman2/quotes/210598127/delayed CN:SHCOMP -0.83% roughly flat.
Despite the yen’s slight weakening on Wednesday, the dollar-yen currency won’t likely move much until Yellen makes her remarks in Jackson Hole, Wyo., at the Fed’s annual meeting, says Mizuho Securities Chief FX Strategist Kengo Suzuki, in a note.
Among stocks in Japan, Sony Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201361720/delayed JP:6758 -1.98% gained 1.7% after the Japanese electronics giant said it will raise the price of its PlayStation Plus service, weeks before unveiling two new versions of its flagship videogame console. Japanese automobile stocks also rose as any tightening by the Fed would push the dollar higher, making then yen weaker and Japanese exports more competitive. Toyota Motor Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203803129/delayed JP:7203 -0.27% was up 1.8%, with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/208298710/delayed JP:7201 -0.36% trading 2.2% higher.
In Australia, Qantas Airways Ltd. /zigman2/quotes/205534063/delayed AU:QAN -0.57% gained 2.5% after it reported record profits for the full fiscal year. The airline operator said it would pay an ordinary dividend of 7 Australian cents per share, its first such payment since 2009.
“Qantas remains very cheap in our view and the resumption of dividends demonstrates management’s confidence in the outlook going forward,” lender Macquarie said in a note Wednesday.
Meanwhile, oil prices were down in Asian trade early Wednesday, after the industry group American Petroleum Institute said their data showed an increase of 4.5 million barrels in U.S. crude stockpiles last week. Still, prices rose in U.S. trade Tuesday on speculation that Iran might cooperate with other global exporters to keep oil prices from falling.
Official U.S. oil data by the Energy Information Administration will be released later Wednesday to shed more light on the state of U.S. stockpiles. West Texas Intermediate crude prices were recently down 44 cents at $47.65 a barrel in Asia trade, while Brent crude prices were down 36 cents at $49.60 a barrel.
Oil-exporting Malaysia’s ringgit weakened against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday. The ringgit has been pressured of late, along with other Asian currencies, on the view the Fed is veering towards tightening. High U.S. interest rates would pull money out of Asian markets to the U.S., weakening regional currencies in the process. The dollar-ringgit pair was last at 4.0360, up from its Tuesday closing of 4.0250.