Asia shares mixed as Ukraine tensions trump US data

AFP
Ukrainian servicemen at a checkpoint in the Donetsk region, August 28, 2014. The prospect of a military confrontation between Ukraine and Russia has knocked market confidence
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Asian markets were mixed Friday as the prospect of a military confrontation between Ukraine and Russia knocked confidence and offset forecast-beating US growth data.

While the rise in geopolitical uncertainty prompted investors to buy lower-risk assets such as the yen, despite disappointing economic figures out of Tokyo, comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin helped to soothe some fears.

Tokyo slipped 0.23 percent, or 35.27 points, to finish at 15,424.59 and Seoul shed 0.35 percent, or 7.22 points, to 2,068.54, while Sydney was flat, edging up 1.49 points to 5,625.9.

Shanghai added 0.97 percent, or 21.38 points, to 2,217.20 and Hong Kong was flat, edging up 1.06 points to 24,742.06.

After enjoying a rally over the past few weeks, investors were spooked by claims that Russian forces were inside Ukraine helping support pro-Kremlin separatists who have been fighting against Kiev's rule since April.

NATO said at least 1,000 Russian troops were on the ground in the country, fuelling worries of a war.

Moscow denies the accusations but US President Barack Obama said it was "plain for the world to see" that Russian forces were fighting in Ukraine. He and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the actions "cannot remain without consequences", raising the prospect of even more sanctions against Moscow.

However, Putin called on separatists in Ukraine to allow Ukrainian troops out of the rebel-held town of Novoazovsk, easing some tensions.

The developments overshadowed news from the Commerce Department that the US economy expanded at a 4.2 percent annual rate in April-June, revising upward its previous 4.0 percent estimate.

- Positive positions -

On Wall Street the S&P 500, which ended above 2,000 for the first time this week, pulled back from Wednesday's record close, shedding 0.17 percent. The Dow lost 0.25 percent and the Nasdaq dropped 0.26 percent.

Currency dealers shifted away from their recent positive positions, moving back into the yen, which is considered a safe option in times of uncertainty.

The dollar fetched 103.79 yen in Tokyo trade, coming off earlier lows thanks to Putin's comments as well buying by Japanese importers before month's end.

While it is a touch up from the 103.75 yen seen late in New York it is still well off the seven-month high of 104.20 yen seen earlier in the week. The euro bought $1.3173 and 136.74 yen, compared with $1.3181 and 136.75 yen in New York.

The Japanese unit's gains came despite official figures showing household spending sank more than expected in July while industrial production was stagnant.

The data come after a bigger-than-expected contraction in the economy in April-June as an April sales tax hike bites into the country's recovery.

While inflation came in as forecast, analysts said the results will add pressure on the Bank of Japan to unveil fresh monetary easing measures to kickstart economic growth.

On oil markets US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for October delivery was up 32 cents at $94.87 while Brent crude for October advanced 35 cents to $102.81 in afternoon trade.

Gold traded at $1,285.00 an ounce at 1054 GMT, from $1,292.23 late Thursday.

In other markets:

-- Bangkok rose 0.17 percent, or 2.58 points, to 1,561.63.

Bangkok Bank dropped 0.49 percent to 205.00 baht, while PTT Plc was steady at 321.00 baht.

-- Kuala Lumpur's main index lost 0.51 percent, or 9.57 points,to 1,866.11.

Petronas Gas fell 0.9 percent to 22.80 ringgit, while plantation giant Sime Darby shed 0.1 percent to 9.46.

-- Jakarta ended down 0.92 percent, or 47.62 points, at 5,136.86.

Bank Negara Indonesia fell 1.83 percent to 5,350 rupiah, while Hero Supermarket climbed 0.39 percent to 2,550 rupiah.

-- Singapore closed down 0.09 percent, or 3.13 points, to 3,327.09.

Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation rose 0.91 percent to Sg$10.00 while agribusiness company Wilmar International gained 0.32 percent to Sg$3.16

-- Taipei eased 0.44 percent, or 42.10 points, to 9,436.27.

Smartphone maker HTC rose 1.48 percent to Tw$137.5 but Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. lost 0.8 percent to Tw$124.0.

-- Wellington fell 0.27 percent, or 14.21 points, to 5,223.30.

Air New Zealand was down 0.90 percent at NZ$2.195 and Fletcher Building slipped 0.97 percent to NZ$9.20.

-- Manila closed 0.70 percent lower, giving up 49.81 points to 7,050.89.

Aboitiz Equity Ventures tumbled 2.23 percent to 54.75 pesos and SM Investments fell 3.44 percent to 772.00 pesos but Philippine Long Distance Telephone gained 1.83 percent to 3,450.00 pesos.

-- Mumbai was closed for a public holiday.

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