Hong Kong: Asian stock markets were mostly lower on Thursday but Tokyo was lifted by the weakening yen, while currency dealers awaited a key interest rate decision by the European Central Bank.
Amid ongoing caution over the economic impact of the 11 March Japanese earthquake-tsunami and resulting atomic crisis traders in Tokyo pushed the Nikkei index up 0.57% by the break.
However, market-watchers fear the index will ease back as dealers monitor progress at the Fukushima Daiichi atomic plant, which was crippled by the twin disaster and led to concerns of a nuclear catastrophe.
Sydney fell 0.22%, Hong Kong slipped 0.34%, Shanghai dropped 0.18% and Seoul gave up 0.64%.
Tokyo was mainly boosted by the continuing strength of the dollar and euro against the Japanese unit as the US Federal Reserve and ECB consider tightening their monetary policies.
The euro has surged recently on expectations that eurozone interest rates will be hiked later Thursday by the ECB as it battles rising inflation.
The dollar was at ¥85.33, slightly down from ¥85.44 in New York on Wednesday, while the yen was at 122.35 to the euro from ¥122.45.
The Japanese unit clawed back slightly on profit-taking. The euro was flat at $1.4332.
The ECB is forecast to hike rates after its meeting Thursday for the first time since July 2008 as prices continue to rise in the region.
However, the move decision will come against the backdrop of a third member state seeking a bailout after Portugal said it would need help to balance its economy. The IMF and European Union last year were called in to support Ireland and Greece.
“Markets will likely tread water ahead of the central bank decisions today but sentiment is likely to remain positive,” said Credit Agricole in a note to clients, referring to ECB and Bank of England, which is also set to decide.
Japanese investors were also keeping an eye on upcoming earnings reports, looking for pointers indications to the impact of last month’s disasters.
“Many companies are saying they won’t give forecasts during earnings announcements as they are still assessing (quake) damage, but the market will listen closely to any qualitative comments made on outlooks,” Yukata Miura, a senior technical analyst at Mizuho Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.
Shares in TEPCO, which operates the Fukushima plant, gained 1.18% to 341, having hit all-time closing lows this week amid concerns its faces a huge compensation bill.
The stock has lost around 84% of pre-earthquake 10 March closing value.
On oil markets investors locked in profits from recent gains as Libyan rebels exported the conflict-hit country’s first crude shipment from a region they control.
New York’s main contract, light sweet crude for May, pulled back 39 cents to $108.44 per barrel after crossing $109 for the first time in two and a half years in New York.
Brent North Sea crude for May delivery dipped 51 cents to $121.79 after touching $123.37 a barrel in London.
Gold opened at $1,456.00-$1,457.00 an ounce in Hong Kong, down from Wednesday’s close of $1,456.50-$1,457.50.
The precious metal is sitting at record highs as dealers buy into it for its safe haven status amid concerns over conflict in Libya, global inflation and the Japanese crisis.