CANBERA (Alliance News) - Asian stocks turned in a mixed performance on Tuesday, as investors continued to monitor events in Ukraine and awaited the outcome of the US Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting beginning later in the day for direction. Trading activity remained light as the Japanese market was closed to mark Showa Day and the start to the Golden Week period.
Chinese shares rose sharply, snapping a four-day losing streak, as investors cheered encouraging earnings reports from companies such as Ping An Insurance Group and Datong Coal Industry. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index closed up 0.8% at 2,020. Hong Kong'sHang Seng Index rallied 1.5% to finish at 22,454.
Ping An Insurance Group of China rallied 2.6% after the country's second-biggest insurer reported a 46% jump in first-quarter profit, beating estimates. Datong Coal Industry shares soared 10% after the company turned in a profit of 1.04 billion yuan in the first quarter versus a net loss of 1.4 billion yuan last year.
Australian shares hit a six-year high before reversing direction to end notably lower, dragged down banks and miners. The benchmark S&P/ASX200 Index dropped 0.9% to finish at 5,487. Westpac and NAB fell about 1.3% each after Citigroup lowered its ratings on the stocks. ANZ lost a percent and Commonwealth hit a record high of USD79.95 before erasing early gains to end down 0.6% at USD78.94.
Miners bore the brunt of the selling, with BHP Billiton losing a percent and Rio Tinto declining 1.2%, while smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group tumbled 2.3%. Newcrest retreated 3.1% as the price of gold fell below a key level of USD1,300 an ounce amid signs of a strengthening US housing market.
Energy stocks were in focus, with Santos rising 0.2% and Oil Search adding a percent after Exxon Mobil Corporation announced its USD19 billion PNG LNG project has started producing liquefied natural gas in Papua New Guinea ahead of schedule.
Shares of Roc Oil dropped 0.5 cents to 45 cents and Horizon fell 1.5 cents after they announced plans for an all-scrip merger in a deal worth around AUD800 million. Wesfarmers fell 2% despite the Perth-based conglomerate reporting higher sales in its supermarket and home improvement stores during the March quarter.
Seoul shares fell modestly on foreign fund selling. The benchmark Kospi average eased 0.2% to finish at 1,965, its lowest level since March 26. Samsung Electronics lost 2%. The company reported a 7% increase in profit for the first quarter, as higher sales of memory chips offset slowing sales at its mobile unit. Operating profit declined for the second straight quarter, broadly in line with its guidance provided earlier in the month.
Steelmaker Posco advanced 2% on a report that it is considering a possible sale of unit Daewoo International Corp. The South Korean won rose to a near six-year high after official data showed South Korea's current account surplus rose to its highest level in five months in March, due to favorable exports of products such as information and communication equipment, passenger cars and semiconductors.
New Zealand shares gained ground, as energy stocks rose on continued speculation the National party would regain government for a third term. The benchmark NZX-50 Index rose 0.6% to 5,148. Genesis advanced 1.9%, Meridian Energy rallied 1.7%, Contact Energy rose 0.7% and Vector closed up 0.4%.
Heavyweight Telecom jumped 2.1% and Fletcher Building, the nation's largest construction company, added 0.9%. OceanaGold tumbled 3.7% ahead of its earnings announcement, governance app developer Diligent Board Members Services fell 3.2% and retailer Warehouse Group lost 2.1%.
In economic releases, New Zealand's trade surplus widened to NZUSD920 million in March driving the monthly and annual export receipts to new records, Statistics New Zealand said. Exports grew 15.0% year-over-year to NZUSD5.08 billion, exceeding the USD5 billion mark for the first time last month, while imports climbed an annual 13.0% to NZUSD4.16 billion.
Elsewhere, India's Sensex was down 0.4%, Indonesian shares were marginally lower and Singapore's Straits Times Index was losing 0.3%, while Malaysia's KLSE Composite was up 0.1% and the Taiwan Weighted average added 0.7%.
Singapore's producer prices declined 1.7% on a monthly basis in March after a 0.9% gain in the previous month, figures from the Department of Statistics Singapore showed.
US stocks closed mostly higher overnight as investors reacted positively to news on the merger-and-acquisition front and braced for a slew of economic reports due out later this week. While a solid pending home sales report triggered some buying interest, gains were capped by ongoing concerns over the situation in Ukraine. The Dow rose half a percent and the S&P 500 added 0.3%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq edged down marginally.