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Asian Markets Mixed Amid Cautious Trades

Asian stock markets are trading mixed on Wednesday, following the broadly negative cues from Wall Street overnight, as traders remain cautious and seemed reluctant to make significant moves ahead of the release of the minutes of the US Fed’s latest monetary policy meeting later in the day. The Fed may provide additional insight into the outlook for interest rates. Asian markets closed mostly lower on Tuesday.

The CME Group’s FedWatch Tool is indicating just an 8.5 percent chance the Fed will lower rates by a quarter point in March, while the chances of a quarter point rate cut in early May have fallen to 33.8 percent.

The Australian stock market is trading notably lower on Wednesday, adding to the losses in the previous session, with the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 falling to near the 7,600 level, following the broadly negative cues from Wall Street overnight, dragged by strong losses in mining stocks amid weaker metal prices.

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The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 67.80 points or 0.89 percent to 7,591.20, after hitting a low of 7,585.60 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 68.50 points or 0.87 percent to 7,843.00. Australian stocks ended slightly lower on Tuesday.

Among major miners, Mineral Resources is losing almost 2 percent, Fortescue Metals is declining almost 4 percent, BHP Group slipping more than 3 percent and Rio Tinto is down almost 3 percent.

Oil stocks are mixed. Santos is losing almost 2 percent and Woodside Energy is down almost 1 percent, while Origin Energy is adding 1.5 percent and Beach energy is edging up 0.2 percent.

In the tech space, Afterpay owner Block is edging up 0.1 percent, Appen is advancing almost 4 percent, Xero is gaining more than 1 percent and WiseTech Global is soaring 11.5 percent. Zip is flat.

Among the big four banks, Westpac is edging down 0.1 percent. Commonwealth Bank is gaining almost 1 percent, while ANZ Banking and National Australia Bank are adding more than 1 percent each.

Among gold miners, Newmont, Evolution Mining and Gold Road Resources are losing almost 1 percent each, while Northern Star Resources is edging down 0.5 percent and Resolute Mining is down more than 1 percent.

In other news, shares in Woolworths are tumbling 9 percent after supermarket giant announced that chief executive Brad Banducci is stepping down after 13 years at the helm.

Shares in Corporate Travel Management are plummeting 18 percent after the travel agency’s half-year results missed expectations.

In economic news, Australia’s wage price index was up a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2023, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Wednesday. That was in line with expectations and down from 1.3 percent in the three months prior.

On a yearly basis the wage price index climbed 4.2 percent – exceeding estimates for 4.1 percent and unchanged from the previous three months.

In the currency market, the Aussie dollar is trading at $0.656 on Wednesday.

The Japanese stock market is trading notably lower on Wednesday, extending the losses in the previous three sessions, following the broadly negative cues from Wall Street overnight. The Nikkei 225 is falling below the 38,200 level, with weakness in index heavyweights, technology and financial stocks.

Traders also reacted to domestic data that showed manufacturing sentiment in Japan turned negative in February 2024, for the first time in ten months.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index closed the morning session at 38,188.85, down 174.76 points or 0.46 percent, after hitting a low of 38,130.57 earlier. Japanese stocks ended modestly lower on Tuesday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group is losing more than 2 percent, while Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing is gaining almost 1 percent. Among automakers, Honda is edging down 0.1 percent, while Toyota is edging up 0.4 percent.

In the tech space, Advantest is losing more than 3 percent and Tokyo Electron is declining more than 1 percent, while Screen Holdings is gaining almost 1 percent.

In the banking sector, Mizuho Financial, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial are losing almost 1 percent each.

Among the major exporters, Sony is losing more than 1 percent and Mitsubishi Electric is declining almost 2 percent, while Canon is adding almost 1 percent. Panasonic is flat.

Among other major losers, Sumitomo Pharma is losing more than 4 percent, Pacific Metals is declining almost 4 percent and Dowa Holdings is down more than 3 percent, while Dai-ichi Life and T&D Holdings are slipping almost 3 percent each.

Conversely, Aozora Bank is soaring almost 8 percent and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha is gaining more than 3 percent, while Hitachi Zosen, Terumo, Rakuten Group, BANDAI NAMCO and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines are advancing almost 3 percent each.

In economic news, Japan posted a merchandise trade deficit of 1,758.3 billion yen in January, the Ministry of Finance said on Wednesday. That beat forecasts for a shortfall of 1,925.9 billion yen following the 62.1 billion yen surplus in December.

Exports climbed 11.9 percent on year to 7.332 trillion yen – beating forecasts for an increase of 9.5 percent and up from 9.8 percent in the previous month. Imports stumbled an annual 9.6 percent to 9.090 trillion yen versus expectations for a decline of 8.4 percent following the 6.8 percent contraction a month earlier.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the higher 149 yen-range on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan are lower by between 0.3 and 0.4 percent each. Hong Kong and China are up 1.9 and 0.7 percent, respectively. New Zealand and Indonesia are up 0.1 percent each.

On the Wall Street, stocks moved mostly lower during trading on Tuesday, extending the pullback seen during last Friday’s session. The Nasdaq showed a notable move to the downside amid weakness among tech stocks.

The major averages ended the day in negative territory but off their lows of the session. The Nasdaq slumped 144.87 points or 0.9 percent to 15,630.78, the S&P 500 fell 30.06 points or 0.6 percent to 4,975.51 and the Dow dipped 64.19 points or 0.2 percent to 38,563.80.

Meanwhile, the major European markets finished the day mixed. While the French CAC 40 Index rose by 0.3 percent, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index and the German DAX Index both edged down by 0.1 percent.

Crude oil prices moved sharply lower on Tuesday, reflecting ongoing concerns about the outlook for demand. West Texas Intermediate for March delivery slumped $1.01 to $78.18 a barrel, while the more actively traded crude for April delivery tumbled $1.42 to $77.04 a barrel.

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