Asian Markets Edge Higher Amid Cautious Trades

Asian stock markets are mostly higher on Friday, though gains are modest, with investors treading cautiously ahead of the release of the closely watched U.S. monthly jobs report later in the day.

A media report indicating that U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 elections is intensifying has dampened investor sentiment. The Wall Street Journal reported that Mueller has impaneled a grand jury in Washington to investigate allegations of Russia’s interference in the elections.

The Australian market is modestly lower. Banks and oil stocks are among the leading losers, with shares of Commonwealth Bank down almost 3 percent after it was accused of breaching Australia’s money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws.

Investors are also cautious ahead of the release of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s statement on monetary policy later in the day.

In late-morning trades, the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is losing 7.40 points or 0.13 percent to 5,727.70, off a low of 5,709.30. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 5.60 points or 0.10 perent to 5,781.20.

In the banking sector, ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank and Westpac are down 0.1 percent to 0.7 percent.

The Australian government has launched civil proceedings against Commonwealth Bank, accusing it of breaching anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. Shares of the bank, which could face a maximum penalty of A$18 million, are losing almost 3 percent.

Among oil stocks, Woodside Petroleum is down 0.2 percent, Oil Search is declining almost 1 percent and Santos is losing more than 1 percent after crude oil prices slipped more than 1 percent.

In the mining space, BHP Billion is adding 0.2 percent, Fortescue Metals is up 0.4 percent and Rio Tinto is advancing almost 2 percent.

Gold miner Newcrest Mining is rising almost 1 percent and Evolution Mining is advancing more than 1 percent after gold futures declined.

Tabcorp has slipped to a full-year net loss of A$20.8 million, weighed down by costs related to its proposed merger with Tatts Group, legal issues and its new UK business. However, the gaming giant’s shares are advancing more than 1 percent.

Crown Resorts reported a 97 percent surge in full-year profit, but stripping out significant items, profit fell more than 15 percent. The casinos operator’s shares are edging up less than 0.1 percent.

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