Asia Markets: Asian markets mixed as investors seek direction

Asian markets were mixed in modest trading Friday, as investors sought direction amid a rare quiet news day on the geopolitical front.

Speaking in Washington on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence expressed hope for a phase-one trade deal, and said the U.S. “will continue to negotiate in good faith with China.” Pence pointed out that China was a “strategic and economic rival,” though, and sharply criticized its actions to curb civil rights in Hong Kong and mainland China. There were no other major trade developments.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would seek a general election in December to break the Brexit deadlock, but it’s uncertain if he can win Parliament’s support for the vote.

Japan’s Nikkei

NIK, +0.02%

 gave up early gains after Trade Minister Isshu Sugawara resigned after just a month on the job. Sugawara has been grilled in Parliament recently concerning a scandal over condolence money allegedly being offered to election supporters.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index

HSI, -0.44%

  fell 0.4%, while the Shanghai Composite

SHCOMP, -0.01%

  slipped 0.2% and the smaller-cap Shenzhen Composite

399106, +0.27%

  rose slightly. South Korea’s Kospi

180721, -0.05%

  was about flat, while benchmark indexes in Taiwan

Y9999, -0.27%

 , Singapore

STI, +0.46%

  and Indonesia

JAKIDX, -0.56%

  were mixed. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200

XJO, +0.65%

  gained 0.6%.

Among individual stocks, SoftBank

9984, -1.62%

  fell in Tokyo trading, as did convenience-store chain FamilyMart

8028, -2.06%

 , while Screen Holdings

7735, +3.68%

  gained. In Hong Kong, CSPC Pharmaceutical

1093, +2.31%

  rose, along with CNOOC

883, +0.83%

 , while AAC

2018, -1.23%

  and Ping An Insurance

2318, -3.49%

  declined. LG Electronics

066570, -1.45%

  fell in South Korea while SK Hynix

000660, +3.00%

  surged. Retailer Woolworths

WOW, +0.96%

  gained in Australia.

Traders have braced for weaker results this earnings season amid concerns about the costly trade war between the U.S. and China, and increased signs of slowing economic growth worldwide. Earnings reports in the last couple of weeks have mostly exceeded Wall Street analysts’ modest expectations.

After moving sideways for much of the day, the S&P 500

SPX, +0.19%

  added 5.77 points, or 0.2%, to 3,010.29. The index is now within 0.6% of its all-time high set July 26. The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, -0.11%

  dropped 28.42 points, or 0.1%, to 26,805.53. The Nasdaq

COMP, +0.81%

 , which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, climbed 66 points, or 0.8%, to 8,185.80.

“The past week saw most major share markets push higher helped by generally good U.S. earnings reports, benign geopolitical news and optimism that global recession will be avoided,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital.

Benchmark crude oil

CLZ19, -0.50%

  dipped 35 cents to $55.88 a barrel. It rose 26 cents to $56.23 a barrel Thursday. Brent crude oil

BRNZ19, -0.47%

 , the international standard, lost 37 cents to $61.30 a barrel.

The dollar

USDJPY, +0.04%

  was little changed, including up to 108.65 Japanese yen from 108.64 yen on Thursday.

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