Asian Shares Mostly Lower In Cautious Trade

Asian stocks ended broadly lower on Monday as investors braced themselves for a busy week of corporate earnings reports and economic data.

The coronavirus outbreak in New York state — epicenter of the epidemic in the United States — is “on the descent,” Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday as the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus rose to more than 40,000, the highest in the world due to the infection.

China’s Shanghai Composite index rose by 14.06 points, or 0.50 percent, to 2,852.55 after the People’s Bank of China cut a key rate for the second time this year. The central bank trimmed the benchmark interest rates by 20 bps to a record low of 3.85 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slid 0.21 percent to 24,330.02.

Japanese shares ended deep in the red after data showed the country’s exports slumped the most in nearly four years in March. Japanese exports fell almost 12 percent in the month from a year earlier, with shipments to the United States down over 16 percent.

Investors also awaited corporate earnings results that will likely reveal the damage wrought by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Nikkei average ended down 228.14 points, or 1.15 percent, at 19,669.12. The broader Topix index closed 0.70 percent lower at 1,432.41, with companies linked to consumer spending taking a hit after officials asked more people to stay at home to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Chugai Pharmaceutical Co tumbled 3.9 percent ahead of its earnings results due on Thursday. Advantest Corp rose 0.6 percent while Fanuc Corp declined 0.9 percent ahead of their earnings results due out Friday.

Australian markets fell sharply after a survey found nearly a quarter of Australian adults with a job are working fewer hours due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The benchmark S&P/ASX200 dropped 134.50 points, or 2.45 percent, to 5,353, while the broader All Ordinaries index ended down 130 points, or 2.34 percent, at 5,414.70.

Energy stocks paced the decliners, with Caltex Australia falling as much as 7.8 percent after a Canadian firm has decided not to proceed with an A$8.8 billion ($5.6 billion) takeover bid for the Australian company.

Woodside Petroleum, Santos, Origin Energy and Beach Energy lost 4-5 percent as oil prices went into freefall, with West Texas Intermediate crude plunging below $15 a barrel to the lowest level since 2001.

Lender National Australia Bank fell 2.4 percent after flagging its first-half earnings would take a $1.2 billion hit. The other three big banks shed around 2 percent.

Seoul stocks ended lower as caution set in ahead of the first-quarter earnings season. The Kospi average ended down 16.17 points, or 0.84 percent, at
1,898.36 after rising over 3 percent the previous day on hopes that the Covid-19 pandemic was peaking.

South Korea reported 13 more cases of the new coronavirus today, bringing the nation’s total infections to 10,674. For the third day in a row, the new virus infections stayed below 20.

New Zealand shares finished off their day’s lows after the government said it would partially relax nationwide lockdown restrictions in a week amid a decline in new coronavirus cases. The benchmark NZX-50 index hit as low as 10,735.31 before ending down 0.15 percent at 10,762.67.

“Going hard and early to stamp out the virus, backed by an effort of 5 million New Zealanders to break the chain of transmission, means together we have helped stop the uncontrolled explosion of Covid-19 in New Zealand,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Overall consumer prices in New Zealand advanced a seasonally adjusted 0.8 percent sequentially in the first three months of 2020, Statistics New Zealand said in a report. That exceeded expectations for an increase of 0.4 percent and was up from 0.5 percent in the three months prior.

U.S. stocks posted strong gains on Friday to reach their best closing levels in over a month after the White House released guidelines for states to reopen their economies and investors cheered promising early data related to a potential coronavirus treatment from Gilead Sciences

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared 3 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rallied 1.4 percent and the S&P 500 advanced 2.7 percent.

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