CANBERA (dpa-AFX) - Asian stock markets are mostly trading marginally lower on Thursday, with investors largely refraining from making significant moves ahead of the European Central Bank's rate decision due later in the day.
Though Wall Street closed higher overnight, buying interest was somewhat subdued due to a mixed batch of economic data.
The Australian stock market is down marginally, wiping off some early losses, with investors indulging in some cautious buying at lower levels.
Consumer staples, financial and information technology stocks are weak. Mining stocks are finding some support thanks to higher iron ore prices. Energy, healthcare and industrial stocks are mixed.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index is down 8.4 points at 5,436.4. The broader All Industries index is at 5,418.6, down 8.2 points or 0.4 percent from its previous close.
Among bank stocks, ANZ Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac (WBK) are down 0.2 to 0.5 percent. Bendigo & Adelaide Bank and Bank of Queensland are modestly higher.
Among the top miners, BHP Billiton (BHP) and Rio Tinto (RIO) are up marginally. Fortescue Metals is moving up 2 percent, while Newcrest Mining is down by about 1.5 percent.
In the energy sector, Oil Search is moving up 1.8 percent following an earnings upgrade. Santos, Caltex Australia and Origin Energy are up 0.5 to 0.8 percent, while Woodside Petroleum is declining by about 0.5 percent.
Regis Resources is declining 2.8 percent. Monadelphous Group, Echo Entertainment Group, Treasury Wine Estates, Flight Centre Travel Group, Mineral Resources, Primary Healthcare and Coca-Cola Amatil are lower by 1.2 to 2 percent.
Meanwhile, Challenger is advancing nearly 4 percent. Tabcorp Holdings, Aristocrat Leisure, JB Hi-Fi, Navitas and Orora are up 1 to 1.5 percent.
On the economic front, Australia posted a seasonally adjusted merchandise trade deficit of A$122 million in April, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said. That was well shy of forecasts for a trade surplus of A$510 million following the upwardly revised surplus of A$902 million in March.
Exports dipped A$421 million or 1 percent on month to A$28.497 billion, while imports climbed A$604 million or 2 percent on month to A$28.619 billion.
In the currency market, the Australian dollar opened higher against the U.S. dollar. In early trades, the local unit was quoting at US$0.9277, up from Wednesday's close of US$0.9267.
Stocks opened higher in the Japanese market, lifted by overnight gains on Wall Street and a stronger greenback. However, the market retreated from higher levels subsequently with investors choosing to tread cautiously ahead of the European Central Bank's rate decision, due later in the day. The yen's recovery too contributed to the market's fall from higher levels.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index was up 8.8 points at 15,076.7 at the end of the morning session, after having advanced to 15,141.1 earlier in the day.
Dainippon Screen Manufacturing Co. shares were up nearly 5 percent and Sharp Corp. moved up 4.8percent. Asahi Group Holdings surged up 3.7 percent following a share buy-back announcement from the company. Advantest Corp. (ATE) and IHI Corp. gained a little over 2 percent.
Mitsumi Electric, Seven & I Holdings, IHI Corp., Olympus Corp., J Front Retailing, Nippon Electric Glass, ANA Holdings, Shiseido Co., Yahoo Japan, JTEKT Corp. and Showa Shell Sekiyu KK are all higher by 1 to 2 percent.
Among the losers, Sapporo Holdings declined more than 6 percent after the company said it is likely to incur 11.6 billion yen in extra taxes.
Unitika, Nippon Suisan Kaisha, T&D Holdings, Yokogawa Electric, Konami Corp., Fujitsu, Shionogi & Co and Nissan Chemical Industries were are lower by 1 to 2 percent.
In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded in the upper 102 yen range in early deals in Tokyo. The yen is currently trading at 102.55 to the U.S. dollar, compared to Wednesday's close of 102.63 yen per dollar.
Among other markets in the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Taiwan are down marginally, while South Korea is trading notably lower.
On Wall Street, stocks ended modestly higher on Wednesday, after early weakness. Buying interest was somewhat subdued, but the S&P 500 still managed to reach a new record closing high.
While weak data on private sector employment, labor productivity and widening trade deficit hurt sentiment, reports showing an improvement in service sector activity and a fairly encouraging Beige Book supported the market.
The Dow edged up 15.2 points or 0.1 percent to 16,737.5, the Nasdaq climbed 17.6 points or 0.4 percent to 4,251.6 and the S&P 500 rose 3.6 points or 0.2 percent to 1,927.9.
Major European markets ended mixed on Wednesday. While the German DAX index inched up by 0.1 percent, the U.K.'sFTSE 100 index dipped by 0.3 percent and the French CAC 40 index edged down by 0.1 percent.
U.S. crude oil ended a tad down on Wednesday, with a slew of disappointing economic data outweighing a report from EIA that showed a bigger than expected decline in oil stockpiles last week.
Crude for July delivery ended down $0.02 at $102.64 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.