Asian stocks closed mostly higher on the last trading day of the week in choppy trade as yuan weakened to a one-year low before paring its losses, with investors also digesting U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of the Federal Reserve.
The yuan retraced all of its early losses to trade at 6.7734 to the dollar at 2:58 p.m. HK/SIN in on-shore trading after earlier weakening as much as 6.8106 — crossing the 6.8 level for the first time in more than a year. The offshore yuan traded at 6.7900 to the dollar. The People’s Bank of China set the official mid-point at 6.7671 before the market open, the weakest fixing in a year, according to Reuters.
The move higher in the Chinese currency in the afternoon came as large state banks moved to shore up the yuan by selling dollars, Reuters reported, citing four traders.
The Shanghai composite bounced as the yuan recovered, with the index rising 2.04 percent to close at 2,829.15 after initially trading lower. The smaller Shenzhen composite added 1.13 percent and the blue-chip CSI index finished the day up 1.89 percent.
“What’s going on in the world is not a weak RMB. What’s going on in the world is a strong dollar,” Marc Chandler, head of foreign exchange strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box. The Fed raising rates coupled with a strong U.S. economy was drawing capital from emerging markets to the U.S. and that was putting pressure on the yuan, he said.
Other major markets in the region also got a boost on the back of the yuan’s moves. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index edged up by 0.58 percent by 3:07 p.m. HK/SIN as financials and utilities led the gains before the market close. Property stocks which had dropped earlier pared losses.
South Korean stocks finished the day higher after trading both above and below the flat line. The Kospi closed higher by 0.3 percent at 2,289.19. Samsung Electronics, an index heavyweight, rose 1.17 percent, but other large cap tech names were mixed.
Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 tacked on 0.37 percent to close at 6,285.90 as most sectors rose, although materials dropped 1.06 percent after base metal prices took a hit overnight.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 slipped 0.29 percent, or 66.80 points, to close at 22,697.88. Steelmakers, along with non-ferrous metals, were among the worst-performing sectors, with JFE Holdings falling 1.49 percent and Kobe Steel losing 2.3 percent.
MSCI’s Asia Pacific excluding Japan index advanced 0.6 percent by 2:55 p.m. HK/SIN.
The volatile session in Asia also came on the back of slight declines seen stateside, with U.S. stocks slipping on Thursday as earnings season rolled on, with investors digesting comments from Trump on the Fed.
Trump told CNBC on Thursday that he was “not thrilled” with the central bank hiking interest rates. “Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again. I don’t really — I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best,” he told CNBC’s Joe Kernen in an interview.
The White House later emphasized that the president did not mean to influence the central bank’s decision-making.
“Given his penchant for breaking with tradition, we are not surprised with the president’s comments … His comments are likely to add to financial market volatility, at least in the beginning,” Joseph Capurso, a currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, wrote in a note.
CBA forecasts U.S. growth to slow from 2020 amid higher interest rates and fading fiscal stimulus, and expects more comments from Trump on interest rates. Most analysts, however, do not expect the Fed to be too bothered by those remarks.
Meanwhile, the dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of peers, was mostly steady at 95.116 at 2:47 p.m. HK/SIN. The index had touched a one-year high of 95.652 overnight before taking a dip on Trump’s Fed comments.
The dollar drifted lower against the yen, last trading at 112.33.
In individual movers, shares of Hainan Airlines tanked on Friday as the company resumed trade after it ended a trading halt that had been in place since January. The airline’s stock was down 9.91 percent in Shanghai- close to the 10 percent daily limit.
Meanwhile, shares of TSMC jumped 5.79 percent in Taiwan even though the chipmaker cut its revenue outlook, citing reduced cryptocurrency mining demand in the third quarter.