Asian stocks search for direction as dollar struggles after Fed minutes

Asian markets were mostly subdued on Thursday, taking the lead from a quiet overnight session on Wall Street as investors parsed through minutes from the U.S. central bank.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.13 percent. The energy and materials sub-indexes led gains in the broader market after commodity prices strengthened overnight. Those gains, however, were offset by losses in the utilities and consumer discretionary sub-indexes.

South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index edged down 0.05 percent after markets opened an hour later on Thursday due to a nationwide university entrance exam.

Blue-chip tech plays slipped, but several prominent manufacturing names climbed: Samsung Electronics fell 1.11 percent and Posco rose 1.76 percent. Cosmetics companies also made gains, with Amorepacific tacking on 1.46 percent.

Greater China markets were mixed, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index rising 0.07 percent ahead of the lunch break. The index had closed above the 30,000 mark for the first time in a decade on Wednesday.

Mainland markets were more downbeat. The Shanghai Composite slipped 0.86 percent and the Shenzhen Composite lost 1.69 percent.

MSCI’s broad index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan held in the green to gain 0.11 percent at 12:25 p.m. HK/SIN.

Elsewhere, Japanese markets were closed for a public holiday. U.S. markets will also be closed for Thanksgiving Day on Thursday.

Stateside, markets closed narrowly mixed on Wednesday. The Nasdaq edged up 0.07 percent to notch a record close of 6,867.36. Other major indexes finished the session a touch softer.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve released on Wednesday showed policymakers were largely positive about the economy, even though some officials had concerns about inflation. When it came to market conditions, several Fed members were concerned over “a potential buildup of financial imbalances,” the minutes showed.

Still, the notes reflected that Fed members thought gradual interest rate hikes were likely. Market expectations for a December rate hike stood at 91.5 percent on Thursday morning, according to CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

“[T]he December rate hike seems as close to a done deal as one can ever get, though there was some interesting debate on what to do next year, with the current depleted FOMC camp split on how to operate when the inflation gauge is no longer a reliable pointer,” Rob Carnell, Asia head of research at ING, said in a morning note.

The dollar edged down against a basket of six currencies to trade near its lowest levels since October. The dollar index stood at 93.200 at 12:04 p.m. HK/SIN after falling as low as 93.160 earlier.

Against the Japanese yen, the greenback traded at 111.30, weaker than the 112 level fetched at the beginning of the week and a touch firmer than Wednesday’s close of 111.17.

“With New York away for Thanksgiving and investors now doubting the Fed trajectory for 2018, expect investors to continue to regard the dollar with suspicion intraday,” Emmanuel Ng, a strategist at OCBC Bank, said in a note.

Meanwhile, U.S. durable goods orders for October dipped 1.2 percent, below the 0.3 percent increase expected. That was the first fall in the metric after recording strong gains for the three months prior.

On the data front, Singapore’s economy grew 8.8 percent in the quarter ending in September compared to the quarter before due to strength in the manufacturing sector. That was above the 2.2 percent increase seen in the second quarter and the 7.4 percent growth projected in a Reuters poll.

Elsewhere, the U.K. cut its growth forecasts as the government delivered its Autumn Budget on Wednesday. Growth in 2017 was projected at 1.5 percent, compared to the 2 percent estimated earlier this year. Ahead, growth is expected to fall to 1.3 percent in 2019 and 2020.

Japanese steelmaker JFE Holdings and India’s JSW Steel intend to bid for Bhushan Steel, which went into bankruptcy protection earlier this year, Reuters reported, citing sources.

Australian retailers were also in focus following media reports about e-commerce giant Amazon’s soft launch in the country on Thursday.

While the news has yet to be officially confirmed, some Australian retailers were informed by Amazon about an “internal testing phase” starting on November 23, Reuters said Wednesday, citing a source. Retail stocks were mixed: Harvey Norman was off 0.26 percent and Woolworths was higher by 0.25 percent.

“[I]t may be some time before investors can gauge [Amazon’s] impact on the local retail industry,” Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a note. “The first clue could be signs of extra pressure on margins over the vital Christmas sales period,” he added.

Oil prices were a touch softer after ending the Wednesday session at a two-year high. U.S. West Texas Intermediate traded 0.19 percent lower at $57.91 per barrel after settling at $58.02 on Wednesday. Brent crude futures were 0.21 percent lower at $63.19. Source: CNBC

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