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Asian shares open mixed with eyes on Fed

Asian shares posted a subdued open on Wednesday, tracking a mixed finish on Wall Street overnight as uncertainty over when the Federal Reserve will raise rates prevailed.

Overnight, US stocks were mostly lower as traders held off bets ahead of the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) statement that could shed light on the timing of an interest rate hike.

The FOMC’s two-day meeting kicked off Tuesday, with the highly anticipated post-meeting statement and press conference expected on Wednesday. Investors are monitoring whether or not the word “patient” remains in the text as an indication of when short-term interest rates might go up.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 closed down 0.7 and 0.3 percent, respectively, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq inched up 0.2 percent.

Nikkei slips 0.2 percent

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index retreated from Tuesday’s fresh 15-year high as markets reacted to a smaller-than-expected increase in February’s export data. Japanese exports rose 2.4 percent last month due to a fall in shipments to China, according to data from the Ministry of Finance early Wednesday, a slowdown from a 17.0 percent on-year rise in January.

It was a mixed picture across the board, with index heavyweight Fanuc barely supporting the bourse. The industrial robot maker notched up 0.4 percent, buoyed by last week’s news that it considers bolstering shareholder returns, but gains were offset by a nearly 2 percent decline in Fast Retailing and Softbank.

Sony rallied more than 4 percent after revising its third-quarter profit on Tuesday. The electronics giant said its official operating profit for the third quarter was 182 billion yen (about USD 1.5 billion), up 2.2 percent from the estimate it reported last month.

Mainland indices up

China’s Shanghai Composite opened up 0.4 percent to a fresh seven-year high as a widening fall in February’s new home prices fueled hopes of further stimulus. Home prices eased 5.7 percent year-on-year last month, more than the 5.1 percent drop in January.

“The property market will have to [stop] being a drag in order [for China] to hit the 7 percent growth target this year. This will require further monetary accommodation,” ING analysts wrote in a note. “We remain of the view that the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) will deliver another 25-basis-point cut in policy interest rates in each of the last three quarters of 2015.”

Mainland developers were largely buoyant in early trade, with China Merchants Property and Poly Real Estate up more than 1 percent each.

Brokerages were on course for two straight days of gains; Huatai Securities, China’s largest stock brokerage, rose 4.6 percent, while Haitong Securities and Citic Securities rose over 1 percent each on news that authorities plan to allow brokerages and securities investment advisers to expand their wealth management business.

In Hong Kong, CK Hutchison Holdings leaped nearly 1 percent in its first day of trading. The new company is the product of a reshuffle in the property assets of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing and replaces the old Cheung Kong Holdings, which were suspended on March 10. Meanwhile, the broader Hang Seng index opened up 0.6 percent.

ASX sheds 0.2 percent

Australia’s S&P ASX 200 index halved losses in mid-morning trade, as some index heavyweights turned positive. Rio Tinto, which was previously hurt by iron ore prices hovering near multi-year lows, rebounded 0.5 percent, while all the big four lenders bounced back into the black.

However, a 6.7 percent slump in shares of Fortescue Metals continued to weigh on the resource-heavy bourse. The miner had scrapped a USD 2.5 billion high-yield bond issue announced on Tuesday.

Oil-related counters were also stung by declining commodity prices; Santos and Oil Search lost 1.5 and 0.5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, Orica slumped 3.1 percent on news that its CEO Ian Smith will be stepping down.

Outperforming the bourse was the country’s biggest construction materials and building products group Boral, whose shares shot up 1.2 percent after announcing a share buyback program for up to 5 percent of the company’s issued capital.

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