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Nikkei hits fresh 15-year high amid mixed open in Asia

Japanese shares outperformed the region by clinching a new multi-year high as the rest of Asia opened mixed on Thursday following a flat finish on Wall Street overnight.

Overnight, US stocks closed mixed after struggling to stay positive amid firming oil prices, moderate housing data and debate over Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 traded up 0.1 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite broke a nine-day winning streak to finish flat.

Nikkei adds 0.4 percent

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index touched a fresh 15-year high of 18,692 as dollar-yen was jumped 0.2 percent to trade at 119.01.

Financials extended their rally on the back of news that Japan’s Financial Services Agency could give bank groups the freedom to expand into areas like e-commerce. Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group drifted up 0.4 percent each.

Among index heavyweights, Softbank and Fast Retailing climbed 2 and 1.2 percent each, while robot maker Fanuc trimmed losses to 0.3 percent.

Meanwhile, Koji Ishida, member of the Policy Board of the Bank of Japan, is due to speak at a conference this afternoon. Japanese markets will also digest news that the Diet on Wednesday approved the appointment of Waseda University economics professor Yutaka Harada to the BOJ’s Policy Board. Harada, 64, is a proponent of reflationary policies and is expected to support the BOJ’s goal of achieving 2 percent inflation.

ASX slips 0.6 percent

Australia’s S&P ASX 200 index retreated further from a seven-year high attained earlier this week as its heavyweight banking and mining sectors came under pressure. National Australia Bank slipped 0.5 percent, while Australia and New Zealand Banking, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac dipped 0.4 percent each.

Fortescue Metals led losses among the big miners, down 0.4 percent, while junior miners such as BC Iron and Atlas Iron slumped nearly 3 percent, respectively.

Qantas soared 5 percent after delivering its best first-half profit in four years as its cost-cutting program took effect and lower oil prices trimmed fuel expenses. Among other firms releasing their corporate earnings, Japara Healthcare and Nine Entertainment shot up 7.3 and 9.7 percent each.

Transfield services plummeted 10 percent as its first-half earnings fell short of market consensus.

Mainland indices down

China’s stock market opened down 0.7 percent, adding to a 0.5 percent decline in the previous session. The Shanghai Composite index resumed trade on Wednesday after being shut for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index slipped 0.2 percent, with gaming stocks remaining in the doldrum. Melco Crown fell 3 percent, while Sands China and Galaxy Entertainment plunged 1 percent, due to news that the Macau government plans to impose a limit to the number of mainland tourists that visit the city.

Kospi dips 0.1 percent

South Korea’s Kospi index edged down modestly in early trade, failing to move off a near three-month high clinched on Wednesday.

For the day, markets are likely to focus on news that retailer Shinsegae is interesting in acquiring a majority stake in Kumho Industrial, which holds a 30.1 percent stake in the country’s second-largest flagship carrier Asiana Airlines. Shares of both firms bumped up 0.6 and 15 percent, respectively.

Rest of Asia

Across Asia, corporate earnings will be the key theme, with Singapore-listed commodities trader Noble Group and Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia taking the spotlight.

The former’s fourth-quarter results come after a negative report written by an obscure research company named Iceberg Research sent the Hong Kong-based firm’s shares into a tailspin last week. Shares of Noble Group retreated nearly 1 percent, outpacing a 0.4 percent slip in the broader Straits Times index.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew remains on mechanical ventilation in an intensive care unit in hospital, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s office on Thursday. The 91-year-old, who has been widely credited with the city-state’s economic success, was admitted to hospital on February 5 with severe pneumonia.

Markets will also closely monitor AirAsia’s financial results for any impact related to the crash of Singapore-bound AirAsia flight 8501 in December. The low-cost airline erased early losses to bounce 0.4 percent, while Malaysia’s FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI inched down 0.1 percent.

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