Asia-Pacific markets mostly higher, but shares in Hong Kong and mainland China lose ground

Wednesday's session follows overnight losses on Wall Street, where U.S. stocks fell from record levels.

Asia-Pacific markets mostly higher, but shares in Hong Kong and mainland China lose ground

People walk past an electronic board displaying the Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo on November 10, 2020.

Charly Triballeau | AFP | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Asia-Pacific markets traded mostly up Wednesday but shares on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong lost ground.

Australia's ASX 200 advanced 0.61% to 6,928, with all sectors closing higher. Major banking stocks reversed earlier losses to finish in the green: ANZ shares rose 0.32%, the National Australia Bank added 0.42%, Westpac was up 0.57% while Commonwealth Bank shares advanced 0.58%.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 retraced most of its earlier gains, but still closed up 0.12% at 29,730.79. The Topix index rose 0.67% to 1,967.43.

South Korea's Kospi added 0.33% to 3,137.41.

Samsung Electronics shares dipped 0.47% after the chip and smartphone maker issued earnings guidance for the first three months of 2021. Samsung said it estimated operating profit for the quarter at 9.3 trillion Korean won ($8.3 billion), up 44% from a year ago. The company did not give a detailed breakdown, which is due at the end of this month.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index declined 0.91% to 28,674.80 as the market returned online after being closed since Friday.

Chinese mainland shares also struggled for gains. The Shanghai composite finished fractionally lower at 3,479.63 while the Shenzhen component fell 0.74% to 13,979.31.

Wednesday's session follows overnight losses on Wall Street, where U.S. stocks fell from record levels.

"US equities softened while European indices outperformed after being closed on Monday. News that half the European population will be able to be vaccinated by June was a shot in the arm for the markets," analysts at ANZ Research said in a morning note.

India's central bank leaves rates on hold

Elsewhere, Indian stocks rose in afternoon trade, with the Nifty 50 up 1.24% and the Sensex higher by 1.26%. The Reserve Bank of India left its key policy rate unchanged at 4% and reiterated an accommodative stance "as long as necessary" to sustain growth.

India is experiencing a second wave of coronavirus outbreak, forcing authorities in some states to step up social restrictions. Investment bank Goldman Sachs on Tuesday downgraded the country's growth in the April-June quarter.

Though India's recovery prospects strengthened with the rollout of vaccines, the recent surge in infections has made the outlook even more uncertain and "needs to be closely watched," RBI governor Shaktikanta Das said in a statement.

He said localized and regional lockdowns "could dampen the recent improvement in demand conditions and delay the return of normalcy."

"The stance of monetary policy will remain accommodative till the prospects of sustained recovery are well secured while closely monitoring the evolving outlook for inflation," he added.

IMF revises up global growth forecast

The World Bank/International Monetary Fund spring meeting is underway virtually.

The IMF revised up its forecast for the world economy. On Tuesday, the organization said it expects growth at 6% in 2021, up from a January prediction of 5.5%, and Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said that despite lingering uncertainties around the pandemic, a "way out of this health and economic crisis is increasingly visible."

Analysts at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in a Wednesday note that they do not expect the World Bank/IMF meeting to be a major driver of financial markets.

"Financial markets are much calmer than this time last year.  So there is no impetus for Finance ministers (Treasury secretaries) to get together with a hard hitting communique to support confidence in the economic recovery or financial system," they wrote.

Currencies and oil

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar traded relatively flat at 92.358 against a basket of its peers. The dollar index slipped from levels near 93.200 reached in the previous week.

The Japanese yen changed hands at 109.84 per dollar, weakening from an earlier level around 109.56. The Australian dollar traded down by 0.43% at $0.7632.

Oil prices traded lower Wednesday during Asian trading hours, following overnight gains on the back of strong economic data from the U.S. and China.

U.S. crude was lower by 0.72% at $58.9 a barrel while global benchmark Brent declined 0.62% to $62.35.