Markets in Asia mixed, with Japan lagging as trade concerns simmer

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Asian stocks were mixed early on Wednesday, with Japanese markets under-performing as trade jitters continued to simmer ahead of a deadline when tariffs are due to take effect.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 declined 0.47 percent in the morning, with the services sector leading losses in early trade. Semiconductor industry plays also traded lower, with Tokyo Electron down 3.45 percent.

South Korean stocks drifted slightly higher, with the Kospi edging up by 0.08 percent, while in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.23 percent amid weakness in the financials and information technology subindexes.

Elsewhere, Malaysian investors are likely to keep an eye on the arrest of former prime minister Najib Razak amid investigations into 1Malaysia Development Berhad. The former premier is expected to be charged on Wednesday, Reuters said.

Investor concerns over trade have intensified this week as they await U.S. tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese products, which are set to kick in on Friday. The Chinese government has announced duties of its own that will target the same value of U.S. goods.

Apart from China, the U.S. is also engaged in disputes related to trade with several other trading partners, including Canada, Mexico and the European Union. The countries have either begun imposing or are due to start implementing duties on U.S. goods after being on the receiving end of the Trump administration’s decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Major U.S. indexes finished the shortened Tuesday session, which came a day before the Fourth of July holiday, in negative territory. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.54 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped 0.86 percent.

Technology underperformed stateside, with semiconductors leading the move lower. Idaho-based semiconductor maker Micron finished the session down 5.5 percent after dropping as much as 8 percent. Those moves came as a Chinese court temporarily prohibited the sale of Micron chips in the local market, Bloomberg reported, citing a statement from Taiwan’s United Microelectronics.

Also of note was the persistent fall in the yuan, which dropped to its lowest levels against the dollar in around 11 months on Tuesday, but later pared some of those declines. Weakness in the currency comes amid worries that the trade spat between the U.S. and China could spiral into a trade war with more serious consequences.

Meanwhile, the dollar softened after its recent gains. The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of rivals, last stood at 94.671. Against the yen, the dollar traded at 110.37 at 8:05 a.m. HK/SIN.

The economic agenda for Wednesday is fairly top-heavy (all times in HK/SIN):

  • 9:30 a.m.: Australia May trade data
  • 9:30 a.m.: Australia May retail sales
  • 9:45 a.m.: China Caixin composite and services PMI

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