Asian shares mixed following advance on Wall Street

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares were mixed in Asia yesterday after a modestly high finish on Wall Street that extended the market’s gains into a fourth week.

The Nikkei 225 index rose 0.6 per cent to 21,431.49 despite news that Japan’s exports sank 8.4 per cent in January from a year earlier, far more than forecast.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index jumped 0.9 per cent to 28,489,50, while the Shanghai Composite slipped 0.1 per cent to 2,752.07. South Korea’s Kospi jumped 1.0 per cent to 2,228.12 and the S&P ASX 200 slipped 0.2 per cent to 6,096.50.

Uncertainty over the costly trade conflict between the United States (US) and China has clouded the outlook for trade as well as company profits.

But US stocks shook off an early wobble on Wall Street as solid earnings from Walmart encouraged investors to bid up other retailers and consumer goods companies. Communication services stocks and banks also contributed to the broad gains.

Roughly 81 per cent of S&P 500 companies have reported results for the last three months of 2018, delivering earnings growth of 13.1 per cent versus a year earlier, according to FactSet.

People walk past an electronic board showing Hong Kong share index outside a bank in Hong Kong. – AP

First-quarter snapshots are expected to result in a 2.5 per cent decline in earnings, however.

The benchmark S&P 500 index gained 0.1 per cent to 2,779.76, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average was almost flat at 25,891.32. The Nasdaq composite added 0.2 per cent to 7,486.77. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies picked up 0.3 per cent, to 1,574.47.

Major European indexes finished mostly lower. Investors are keeping a close eye on talks between US and Chinese negotiators in Washington that are aimed at ending a trade war between the world’s largest economies.

JAPAN TRADE: A 17 per cent drop in Japan’s exports to China and 13 per cent decline in exports to the rest of Asia including China helped drag overall exports sharply lower. Japan’s imports fell 0.6 per cent, leaving a deficit of 1.4 trillion yen (USD12.8 billion), up 50 per cent from a year earlier and the biggest such gap since March 2014. The weak numbers suggest China’s slowdown and trade tensions with the United States are hurting demand.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 110.85 yen from 110.63 yen on Tuesday. The euro slipped to USD1.1340 from USD1.1343.

ENERGY: US benchmark crude gained nine cents to USD56.54 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 0.8 per cent to settle at USD56.45 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, lost three cents to USD66.42 per barrel.