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Asian markets rake in modest gains in thin volume

Asian markets rake in modest gains in thin volume

On the first session of 2015, Asian equities traded flat following a lack of foreign cues. Thin volume is also likely as China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines remain shuttered for the holiday season.

A slight rebound in oil prices did little to boost sentiment in Asia. US crude futures gained 80 cents to rise over USD 54 a barrel on Friday, supported by last week’s larger-than-expected fall in US crude stocks but inventories at the oil hub at Cushing, Oklahoma, grew, keeping prices depressed. The rise in oil prices was also pressured by China’s weak factory activity in December.

Benchmark Brent crude previously settled down 57 cents at USD 57.33 a barrel.

ASX adds 0.1 percent

Australia’s benchmark S&P ASX 200 index pared losses to eke out a modest gain on Friday morning, while the Australian dollar traded little changed in light post-holiday trading to fetch USD 0.8135 against the greenback.

Financials underperformed, with National Australia Bank losing nearly 1 percent each while Macquarie Group and Westpac Banking dropped 0.1 and 0.3 percent each.

However, mixed trading in the resources sector capped losses. Energy producer Oil Search and Santos fell 0.6 and 0.2 percent each while Woodside Petroleum notched up 0.3 percent. Atlas Iron was the biggest gainer for the morning, scaling up 37 percent.

STI unchanged

Singapore’s Straits Times index erased early gains to hover near the flatline as traders digested a set of below-view gross domestic product (GDP) released before trade opening on Friday.

The Southeast Asian economy expanded 1.6percent on a quarter-on-quarter annualized basis in the fourth quarter, below expectations for a 3 percent growth in a Reuters poll. On a yearly basis, Singapore grew 1.5 percent, also below estimate for a 2 percent expansion.

For 2014, the benchmark bourse had managed a 6.2 percent gain.

HSI gains 0.1 percent

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index edged up.

Wall Street in 2014

On the last day of 2014, Wall Street closed lower in light volume, with major indices erasing gains for December.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 0.9 percent at 17,823.07, for a gain of 7.52 percent for the year – the sixth straight year of gains for the blue chip index. The S&P 500 had its worst final trading day of the year since 2001, closing down 1 percent at 2,058.90, posting a gain of 11.39 percent for the year. Pressured by a nearly 2 percent decline in Apple, the Nasdaq Composite closed down 0.9 percent at 4,736.05. The tech-heavy index posted gains of 13.40 percent for 2014.

Tracking data releases, AirAsia

China’s official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) slipped to 50.1 in December from 50.3 in the previous month, a government study showed on Thursday. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast a reading of 50.1. However, the official reading is a tick higher than a similar private which showed factory activity shrank for the first time in seven months in December. The HSBC survey focuses on smaller companies while the official survey looks more at larger, state-owned firms.

Meanwhile, divers looking for the wreck of an AirAsia Indonesia jet off Borneo were unable to resume full-scale operations on Thursday due to poor weather and heavy seas. An air safety official said it could take a week to find the black box flight recorders. So far, at least seven bodies have been recovered from waters near the suspected crash site, along with debris such a suitcase, an emergency slide and a life jacket. On board flight QZ8501 were 162 people, including 155 passengers, 2 pilots, 4 cabin crew and one engineer.

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