ASIA MARKETS: Asian Markets Drop Slightly After Declines In U.S., Europe

By Gregor Stuart Hunter Features Dow Jones Newswires

Samsung drags down Kospi, Nikkei slips as BOJ keeps rates steady

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Most Asia-Pacific stock markets were lower by midday, following overnight declines in Europe, as equity investors digested the passage of tax-code changes in the U.S. and the conclusion of a major Chinese economic policy meeting.

Treasury yields pulled back in Asian trading hours Thursday after hitting fresh nine-month highs in the U.S., with the 10-year yield nearing the psychologically important 2.5% mark. It was recently at 2.484%.

Higher yields often send Japan financial stocks -- notably insurers -- up. But they weren't getting much help Thursday, and the Nikkei Stock Average ended morning trading down 0.4%, led by declines for electronics companies.

The market also wasn't benefiting from a weaker yen. The dollar was recently at Yen113.40, versus Yen113 at the end of Tokyo stock trading Wednesday. The currency barely budged after the Bank of Japan's policy statement, which maintained its main policy stances.

Read: Bank of Japan keeps rates steady, gives no hint of future changes (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/bank-of-japan-keeps-rates-steady-gives-no-hint-of-future-changes-2017-12-20)

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Technology stocks also weighed on the South Korean market, where the Kospi shed 1.1% as index heavyweight Samsung Electronics (005930.SE) fell 2.3% and fellow chip maker SK Hynix (000660.SE) dropped 3.1%.

Chinese stocks turned higher ahead of the midday break, erasing weakness and helping push Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index up 0.5%.

This week's Central Economic Work Conference in China showed policy makers' priority is preventing systemic risk, "especially in the financial sector," said Steven Sun, head of research and strategy at HSBC Qianhai Securities. "Fundamentally, they want to increase the quality of growth and reduce vulnerability in the economy."

The Chinese yuan pulled back a little this morning after rising 0.4% against the U.S. dollar Wednesday as policy makers reiterated language stating that monetary policy will be "prudent and neutral" next year, easing a focus on deleveraging.

The yuan's strength Wednesday was followed by the People's Bank of China move to set Thursday's yuan trading midpoint against the dollar at its strongest level since late September.

"While China has been tightening and curtailing credit selectively such as accessing mortgages, there has been some chatter that GDP growth could fall dramatically if credit slowed dramatically," said Brendan Ahern, chief investment officer at KraneShares, which sells China-focused exchange-traded funds.

In currencies, the British pound has steadily declined in early Asian trading after Damian Green, a senior minister in Theresa May's cabinet, resigned (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/key-ally-to-uk-leader-theresa-may-resigns-over-computer-porn-comments-2017-12-20) after a parliamentary investigation found he made misleading statements about pornography found on his office computer.

Bitcoin had another volatile session, a day after Coinbase, which operates the biggest bitcoin trading app and the GDAX exchange, said it was investigating insider trading on its platforms. The digital currency was recently around $16,400 after hitting lows of $15,400 Wednesday afternoon in the U.S.

Bitcoin Cash trading resumed on GDAX after a short-lived attempt to establish pricing on Wednesday. The rival cryptocurrency was last trading around $3,570 after reaching a high of $4,462.21.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 20, 2017 22:47 ET (03:47 GMT)