Asian stocks closed mostly lower on Thursday, although a slight pause in the dollar and hopes of a Greek debt deal helped to cushion the impact of a major selloff in Chinese and Hong Kong shares. A weak yen and some solid economic data helped drive Japanese stocks to a fresh 15-year high, while Seoul shares posted modest gains after sharp losses the day before.
Chinese shares plunged on profit taking following recent sharp gains as more brokerages tightened rules on margin financing ahead of a wave of initial public offerings next week, including nuclear giant China National Nuclear Power that could freeze up to 5 trillion yuan of liquidity. The benchmark Shanghai Composite index closed down 321.45 points or 6.5 percent at a near one-week low of 4,620.27, snapping an eight-session winning streaking and posting its biggest single-day loss since January 19. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index tumbled 626.90 points or 2.23 percent to 27,454.31, weighed down by the selloff in mainland shares.
Japanese shares extended gains for the 10th straight day to close at a fresh 15-year high, after government data showed retail sales jumped 5.0 percent in the year to April, marking the first increase in four months. However, that was less than forecasts for a 5.4 percent increase. The benchmark Nikkei average gained 78.88 points or 0.39 percent to finish at 20,551.46, marking its longest winning streak since a 13-day run in February 1988.
The broader Topix index rose 0.7 percent to close at 1,672.76, with sentiment aided by a weaker yen, which fell to a 12-year low versus the dollar on expectations that the Bank of Japan might take additional easing steps later this year, once the Fed starts tightening. Automaker Honda Motors advanced 1.7 percent after expanding its Takata-related recalls in Japan to 340,000 cars. Toyota Motor also rose 1.7 percent, Nissan Motor added 1.4 percent and Fuji Heavy Industries, the maker of Subaru cars, closed 0.8 percent higher.
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Japan’s largest bank, rallied 2.3 percent, Mizuho Financial soared 5.9 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial climbed 2.8 percent. Electronics giant Sony Corp edged up 0.2 percent after buying the startup Optical Archive Inc. from Frank Frankovsky. Panasonic gained half a percent on reports it will roll out PV battery storage systems in Australia next week.
Australian shares gave up early gains after official figures showed that new private capital expenditure in the country fell by 4.4 percent sequentially in the first quarter of 2015, missing expectations for a 2.2 percent decline. On a yearly basis, private capital expenditure fell 5.3 percent, bolstering the case for further interest rate cuts later this year. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index closed down 12.2 points or 0.2 percent at 5,713.1, a one-week low.
Mining stocks turned in a mixed performance, with BHP Billiton losing half a percent while Rio Tinto advanced 0.6 percent, drawing support from a rise in iron ore prices overnight. Fortescue Metals rallied 3 percent after denying claims that it has set up a “secret” Singapore trading hub. Gold miner Newcrest Mining plunged 5.4 percent as gold hovered near two-week lows on a firmer dollar.
Oil & gas producer Woodside Petroleum dropped 0.6 percent and Santos declined 0.7 percent, while Oil Search closed 0.3 percent higher. Oil prices held steady in Asian deals after another round of losses overnight. In the banking sector, Westpac, NAB and Commonwealth fell between 0.2 percent and 0.8 percent, while ANZ rose 0.6 percent.
Seoul shares rebounded on bargain hunting after two successive days of losses. The benchmark Kospi average closed up 3.39 points or 0.16 percent at 2,110.89 after falling nearly 1.7 percent yesterday to close at a one-week low.
New Zealand shares rose modestly in the wake of firm cues from the U.S. and European markets overnight. The benchmark NZX-50 index gained 19.70 points or 0.34 percent to close at 5,777.64. Spark New Zealand recovered from the previous session’s losses, climbing 3.8 percent to $2.74, and retirement village operators Ryman Healthcare and Summerset Group Holdings rose 1-2 percent, while Fonterra Shareholders’ Fund eased 0.6 percent after lowering its 2014-15 payout by 10 cents to NZ$4.40 per kg. Pacific Edge paced the decliners on the exchange, falling 8.3 percent to 66 cents.
Elsewhere, Indonesian shares were little changed, Singapore’s Straits Times index was declining 0.2 percent and India’s Sensex was losing half a percent, while Malaysian shares were marginally higher and the Taiwan Weighted average rose 0.2 percent.
U.S. stocks rebounded from the previous session’s losses on Wednesday, as the dollar’s rally eased and investors grew more optimistic that Greece would avoid defaulting on its debt. The Dow rose 0.7 percent and the S&P 500 advanced 0.9 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq rallied 1.5 percent to reach a fresh record closing high.