Asian Markets Mostly Higher

Asian stock markets are mostly higher on Wednesday despite the overnight losses on Wall Street amid lingering concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, results of a private survey showed that China’s manufacturing activity expanded in March, after deteriorating the most on record in February due to the strict measures taken to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian market is notably higher, mirroring a similar surge in the previous session. Upbeat local economic data helped boost sentiment. Mining and oil stocks are among the leading gainers.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is gaining 164.30 points or 3.24 percent to 5,241.10 and the broader All Ordinaries Index is climbing 161.10 points or 3.15 percent to 5,271.70. Australian stocks gave up early gains to end sharply lower on Tuesday.

In the mining space, Rio Tinto is gaining almost 5 percent, BHP is rising more than 4 percent and Fortescue Metals is higher by more than 3 percent.

In the oil sector, Oil Search is climbing almost 17 percent, Santos is gaining more than 10 percent and Woodside Petroleum is higher by more than 8 percent after crude oil prices rose almost 2 percent overnight.

Among the big four banks, Commonwealth Bank is advancing more than 1 percent, while Westpac and National Australia Bank are adding 0.2 percent each. ANZ Banking is down 0.3 percent.

Among gold miners, Evolution Mining is declining 0.7 percent and Newcrest Mining is down 0.2 percent after gold prices tumbled overnight.

Transurban Group said toll prices will increase in Sydney and Melbourne from Wednesday despite a fall in traffic volume amid the coronavirus lockdown measures. The company also reported a fall in average daily traffic volume on its toll roads in March. The toll road operator’s shares are edging down 0.1 percent.

Kathmandu Holdings said it will raise NZ$207 million to strengthen its balance sheet after reporting a nearly 42 percent fall in first-half net profit. The outdoor apparel and equipment maker’s shares are in a trading halt.

Fonterra said its New Zealand milk exports declined 6.1 percent in February and it will scale up ethanol production to help sanitiser makers meet the demand amid the coronavirus pandemic. The dairy giant’s shares are unchanged.

On the economic front, the latest survey from the Australian Industry Group revealed that the manufacturing sector in Australia climbed back into expansion in March, with a seasonally adjusted Performance of Manufacturing Index score of 53.7.

That’s up sharply from 44.3 in February, and it moves back above the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction after four months under water.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the total number of building permits issued in Australia was up a seasonally adjusted 19.9 percent on month in February, coming in at 15,698. That beat expectations for an increase of 3.0 percent following the 15.3 percent decline in January.

The Reserve Bank of Australia will today release the minutes from its emergency meeting on March 19. At the meeting, the RBA cut its key interest rates further to a record low 0.25 percent from 0.50 percent and launched a money printing scheme as the spread of COVID-19 continued to disrupt economic activity and financial markets around the world.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is lower against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday. The local unit was quoted at $0.6136, compared to $0.6190 on Tuesday.

The Japanese market is declining and the safe-haven yen strengthened following the negative cues overnight from Wall Street. In addition, weak local economic data weighed on sentiment.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 251.20 points or 1.33 percent to 18,665.81, after touching a low of 18,517.47 earlier. Japanese stocks closed lower on Tuesday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank is advancing more than 1 percent, while Fast Retailing is declining more than 1 percent.

The major exporters are lower on a stronger yen. Mitsubishi Electric is losing almost 2 percent, Sony is lower by more than 1 percent, Canon is down 0.5 percent and Panasonic is declining 0.6 percent.

In the tech space, Advantest is lower by more than 3 percent and Tokyo Electron is down almost 1 percent.

In the oil sector, Inpex is down 0.2 percent, while Japan Petroleum is rising almost 3 percent after crude oil prices rebounded overnight.

Among the other major gainers, JFE Holdings is rising more than 3 percent and Nippon Steel is higher by almost 3 percent. NEC Corp., Sumitomo Heavy Industries and Sumitomo Metal Mining are advancing more than 2 percent each.

On the flip side, Nippon Suisan Kaisha is losing almost 8 percent and ANA Holdings is falling more than 7 percent. Nisshin Seifun Group and Nippon Sheet Glass are lower by more than 6 percent each.

On the economic front, the Bank of Japan’s quarterly Tankan Survey on business sentiment showed that large manufacturing in Japan weakened again in the first quarter of 2020, with a diffusion index score of -8. That actually beat forecasts for a reading of -10, as expectations were very soft because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It was down from a score of 0 three months ago.

The latest survey from Jibun Bank revealed that the manufacturing sector in Japan continued to contract in March, and at a faster rate, with a manufacturing PMI score of 44.8. That’s down from 47.8 in February and it slips further beneath the boom-or-bust line of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 107 yen-range on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in Asia, New Zealand and Indonesia are advancing more than 1 percent each, while Shanghai, Taiwan and South Korea are also higher. Singapore is losing 1 percent, while Malaysia and Hong Kong are also lower.

On Wall Street, stocks recovered from initial weakness but moved back to the downside over the course of the trading session on Tuesday. Traders reacted positively to separate reports on consumer confidence and Chicago-area business activity, which showed deteriorations in March but still came in well above economist estimates. The pullback reflected lingering concerns about the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said confirmed cases in his state jumped to more than 75,000 overnight.

The Dow plunged 410.32 points or 1.8 percent to 21,917.16, the Nasdaq slumped 74.05 points or 1 percent to 7,700.10 and the S&P 500 tumbled 42.06 points or 1.6 percent to 2,584.59.

The major European markets all finished a volatile session in positive territory on Tuesday. While the French CAC 40 Index rose by 0.4 percent, the German DAX Index jumped by 1.2 percent and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index spiked by 2 percent.

Crude oil prices moved higher on Tuesday, rebounding after a sharp setback in the previous session that sent futures contract crashing to their lowest close in 18 years. WTI crude for May ended up $0.39, or 1.9 percent, at $20.48 a barrel.

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