Asian stocks search for direction as first wave of tariffs looms

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Asian markets were little changed early during Thursday trade, as investors searched for direction ahead of a deadline when tariffs from the U.S. and China are due to be implemented.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 hovered around the flat line in the morning, inching higher by 0.02 percent as declines in oil producers and banks offset gains seen in automakers and the pharmaceuticals sector.

Elsewhere, South Korea’s Kospi advanced 0.28 percent as some blue chip tech names carved out slight gains, with Samsung Electronics tracking higher by 0.54 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 drifted higher by 0.09 percent in early trade.

Concerns over a trade dispute between the U.S. and China have weighed on market sentiment in the lead-up to tariffs both countries say will take effect on July 6. The Trump administration has levied a 25 percent tariff on $34 billion in Chinese goods, while the Chinese government has retaliated by announcing tariffs on the same value of U.S. goods.

Due to the time difference, duties imposed by Beijing will likely take effect before Washington’s tariffs on Friday. China’s finance ministry, however, has said that it “absolutely will not fire the first shot” in its trade spat with the U.S., Reuters reported.

European stocks closed mixed in the last session, with investors nervous over heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over trade. The pan-European Stoxx 600 edged up by 0.04 percent by the end of the day, but the U.K.’s FTSE 100 and Germany’s DAX both recorded moderate declines.

Markets stateside were closed on Wednesday because of the Independence Day holiday.

In corporate news, the HNA Group Chairman Wang Jian passed away in an accident while on a business trip in France, the company said. Wang had a 15 percent stake in the group, formerly one of China’s most acquisitive companies, according to Reuters.

In currencies, the yuan gained overnight after notching an 11-month low against the dollar earlier this week. The stabilization in the currency came after the People’s Bank of China reassured markets about the currency.

The dollar index, which measures the dollar against a basket of currencies, last stood at 94.508. Against the yen, the dollar traded at 110.49 at 8:00 a.m. HK/SIN, below levels around the 110.8 handle seen at beginning of the week.

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