Asian markets ease off pedal after rally

By AFP   March 31, 2016 | 12:04 am PT
Asian stock markets ended a volatile first quarter on a cautious note Thursday, as upbeat sentiment fuelled by the prospect of lower US borrowing costs was offset by profit-taking after recent gains.

Shanghai and Tokyo were the two worst performers among major global indexes over the past three months, despite a March rally.

Wall Street provided a strong lead Thursday with another healthy advance on all three main indexes, but traders remained wary and some took profits a day before the release of key data from China and the United States.

World markets soared after Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen said on Tuesday the bank was unlikely to raise interest rates in the first half of this year, citing ongoing concerns about the slow global economy.

"A lot of the recent rebound has been down to the Fed back-tracking on rate hikes," Mark Lister, head of private wealth research at Craigs Investment Partners in Wellington, told Bloomberg News.

"We've seen a big rally but there are still some genuine worries out there. Markets had been overpricing some of the risks, whereas now they're probably underpricing them."

Shanghai and Tokyo led world markets lower in the first three months of the year, weighed down by China's economic woes and plunging oil prices. Japan's Nikkei ended the quarter 12 percent down while Shanghai lost around 15 percent.

Most regional bourses ended the quarter in the red, although March saw some much-needed gains as central banks unveiled monetary easing measures.

On Thursday, Tokyo lost 0.7 percent, while Shanghai eeked out a 0.1 percent gain. 

Elsewhere Hong Kong was 0.4 percent lower in the afternoon, while Singapore lost 1.3 percent and Seoul finished down 0.3 percent. However, Sydney closed 1.5 percent higher.

China's Wanda soars

Investors will now be watching out for China's March manufacturing activity, released Friday, for the latest snapshot of the mainland economy. That is followed by official US jobs figures later in the day.

In Hong Kong, Chinese firm Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties soared 20 percent after its parent firm said it was considering buying all its shares back -- just 16 months after listing.

Billionaire Wang Jianlin, who owns Dalian Wanda Group, is looking to buy the firm back for HK$48 a share, the price it listed, marking a 24 percent premium to its Wednesday close. 

Analysts say he has likely become disillusioned with its performance.

The firm's stock has tumbled since listing as China's property market has been hammered by a slowdown in the world's number two economy.

In currency trade, the dollar retreated against most emerging units as the prospect of low US interest rates boosts demand for higher-yielding assets. 

The South Korean won added 0.7 percent and the Malaysian ringgit gained 0.4 percent, while the Taiwan and Singapore dollars were also up.

Key Figures

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.7 percent at 16,758.67 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,003.92 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 20,771.81

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1329 from $1.1337 on Wednesday  

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 112.42 yen from 112.44 yen

New York - Dow: UP 0.5 percent at 17,716.66 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 1.6 percent at 6,203.17 (close)

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