Asian Markets Mostly Higher With Modest Gains

Asian stock markets are mostly higher on Friday with modest gains after U.S. stocks rose overnight for the fifth straight session amid optimism that the U.S. and China will eventually reach a long-term trade deal. Comments by the Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell that the U.S. central bank would be patient about raising interest rates also boosted sentiment.

The Australian market is modestly lower, reversing earlier gains. Mining stocks are weak, while retail stocks advanced on better-than-expected Australian retail sales data for November.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is declining 10.10 points or 0.17 percent to 5,785.20, after rising to a high of 5,808.60 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 8.40 points or 0.14 percent to 5,845.50. Australian stocks closed modestly higher on Thursday.

In the retail sector, JB Hi-Fi is rising more than 2 percent, Wesfarmers is higher by more than 1 percent and Harvey Norman is adding 0.3 percent after the release of the November retail sales data.

Oil stocks advanced after crude oil prices rose overnight for the ninth straight session. Santos is up 0.1 percent, Woodside Petroleum is adding 0.2 percent and Oil Search is rising 0.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the major miners are also mostly weak as copper prices declined overnight. BHP Group is losing almost 1 percent and Rio Tinto is down 0.7 percent, while Fortescue Metals is adding 0.4 percent.

Gold miner Evolution Mining is losing more than 2 percent and Newcrest Mining is lower by almost 1 percent after a decline in gold prices.

The big four banks are mixed. ANZ Banking is edging up 0.1 percent and National Australia Bank is advancing almost 1 percent, while Westpac is down 0.2 percent and Commonwealth Bank is declining 0.1 percent.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the value of retail sales in Australia was up a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent on month in November, coming in at A$27.115 billion. That exceeded expectations for an increase of 0.3 percent, which would have been unchanged from the October reading.

Australia will also see December results for the Performance of Construction Index from the Australian Industry Group today.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is flat against the U.S. dollar on Friday. The local currency was quoted at $0.7184, unchanged from Thursday.

The Japanese market is advancing, tracking a weaker yen as well as the overnight gains on Wall Street.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is adding 195.28 points or 0.97 percent to 20,359.08, after rising to a high of 20,388.78 earlier. Japanese shares snapped a three-day winning streak to close lower on Thursday.

Among the major exporters, Panasonic is rising more than 2 percent, Sony is advancing more than 1 percent, Mitsubishi Electric is up almost 1 percent and Canon is adding 0.7 percent.

In the tech sector, Advantest is gaining more than 4 percent and Tokyo Electron is rising more than 1 percent.

Among the major automakers, Honda and Toyota are higher by more than 1 percent each. In the banking sector, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is edging up 0.1 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is adding 0.2 percent.

In the oil space, Inpex is declining 0.5 percent and Japan Petroleum is losing almost 1 percent despite crude oil prices rising for a ninth straight session overnight.

Among the other major gainers, Fast Retailing is rising more than 4 percent, Komatsu is advancing more than 2 percent and Kuraray is higher by almost 2 percent.

On the flip side, Aeon Co. and Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha are losing almost 3 percent each, while Yamaha Corp. and Seven & I Holdings are down more than 2 percent each.

On the economic front, the Ministry of Finance said that Japan had a current account surplus of 757.2 billion yen in November. That exceeded expectations for a surplus of 566.3 billion yen and was down from 1,309.9 billion yen in October.

The trade balance reflected a deficit of 559.1 billion yen versus expectations for a shortfall of 612.6 billion yen, following the 321.7 billion yen deficit in the previous month.

The Bank of Japan said that overall bank lending in Japan was up 2.4 percent on year in December, coming in at 534.545 trillion yen. That follows the 2.1 percent increase in November.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the lower 108 yen-range on Friday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai, South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Taiwan are all modestly higher, while Malaysia is edging lower.

On Wall Street, stocks closed higher on Thursday for the fifth consecutive session after seeing initial weakness as assessments of trade talks between the U.S. and China showed no significant breakthroughs. Selling pressure waned shortly thereafter as traders remain optimistic the U.S. and China will eventually reach a long-term trade deal.

The Dow advanced 122.80 points or 0.5 percent to 24,001.92, the Nasdaq rose 28.99 points or 0.4 percent to 6,986.07 and the S&P 500 climbed 11.68 points or 0.5 percent to 2,596.64.

The major European markets ended mixed on Thursday. While the French CAC 40 Index dipped by 0.2 percent, the German DAX Index rose by 0.3 percent and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index climbed by 0.5 percent.

Crude oil futures ended higher on Thursday, extending gains to a ninth successive session, with recent reports showing declines in crude output from OPEC and other major producers. WTI crude added $0.23 or 0.4 percent to close at $52.59 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.