Asian Shares Drift in Thin Trade as Markets Watch Trump

Screens for the Nasdaq Composite and Nasdaq-100 are displayed at Nasdaq, Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Asian stocks drifted mostly higher Friday in quiet trading as traders and investors prepared for the start of the lunar new year holiday across much of the region.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.3 percent to 19,467.40, helped by the dollar’s surge against the Japanese yen, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.1 percent to 23,360.78. The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 0.8 percent to 5,714.00. Markets in China, South Korea, Taiwan were closed while Malaysia was open only for the morning session.

Many Asian countries have begun holidays of varying lengths, curtailing trading across much of the region. Mainland China will take the longest break, shutting down for an entire week.

With little in the way of market-moving events expected in Asia, investors were focusing on the latest moves by U.S. President Donald Trump. He plans to slap a 20-percent tax on imports from Mexico to pay for his promised border wall, in an announcement that left markets uncertain about what it means for trade. Trump’s joint press conference with visiting British Prime Minister Theresa May scheduled for later Friday could also provide trading catalysts, especially for the pound.

“What worries me is that Mexico accounts for only around 8 percent of America’s trade deficits,” said Margaret Yang, an analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore. “Whereas U.S.’s trade deficit with the Pacific Rim is approximately six times larger than that of Mexico. His hard stance toward Mexico could give us a hint of his future trade policies against the Pacific Rim countries, especially China.”

Fourth-quarter U.S. economic growth estimates are due out later along with the latest round of corporate earnings. The numbers will provide fresh insight on the world’s biggest economy and help guide Fed officials as they plan further interest-rate increases this year.

Major U.S. benchmarks had a mixed finish. The Dow Jones industrial average inched further into record territory, rising 0.2 percent to 20,100.91. But the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.1 percent to 2,296.68. The Nasdaq slid 0.02 percent to 5,655.18.

The dollar climbed to 115.25 yen from 114.46 in late trading Thursday. The euro slipped to $1.0663 from $1.0684.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil slipped 4 cents to $53.75 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added $1.03, or 2 percent, to close at $53.78 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 9 cents to $56.40 a barrel in London.

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