By Kenan Machado
Kospi down again, while Japan stocks poised for best monthly performance this year
Asian equities lacked direction early Thursday, with rising bond yields boosting finance stocks in Japan and Australia, though Chinese markets experienced selling pressure ahead of a week-long holiday.
Japan's Nikkei Stock Average pared early gains and was last up 0.3%, recovering from Wednesday's declines when companies paid dividends. The gains also come as the yen continued to pull back, with the U.S. dollar marking a 2 1/2 -month high in late New York trade.
Barring further pullbacks, the Nikkei is poised to end September with its best monthly performance the year.
Shares of banks and insurers, which are large holders of U.S. government bonds, drove gains in Tokyo shares, with T&D Holdings (>> T&D Holdings Inc) rising 2.6%, Dai-ichi Life Holdings (>> Dai-ichi Life Holdings Inc) adding 2.1% and Shinsei Bank (>> Shinsei Bank Ltd) 1.7% higher.
Overnight, yields on 10-year U.S. Treasurys posted their biggest one-day gain since March, after Republicans in Washington released a plan to overhaul the tax code, which they hope will help economic growth. Those yields rose further in Asian trading on Thursday.
"The plan leaves scope for details to be adjusted, allowing compromises and resultant conciliation, which is likely to boost its chances of getting passed," said Mizuho Bank analyst Zhu Huani.
In Australia, banking stocks drove the benchmark index higher, though gains narrowed by late morning. Macquarie Group (>> Macquarie Group Ltd) was up 1.9%, with Commonwealth Bank (>> Commonwealth Bank of Australia) , National Australia Bank (>> National Australia Bank Ltd. (ADR)) and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (>> Australia and New Zealand Banking Group) adding about 0.2% each. The S&P/ASX 200 was last up 0.1%.
Elsewhere in the region, the Kospi failed to hold on to gains, trading down 0.2%. If the weakness continues through to the close, it would mark the first time in about 3 1/2 years that the Kospi fell for eight straight sessions.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index was down 0.4%, while the Shanghai Composite Index was off 0.2%. Traders are taking profits ahead of the weeklong National Day holiday in China, analysts say, though Hong Kong markets will be open for parts of next week.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's biggest share listing of the year had a strong debut on Thursday. ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance (>> Zhong An Real Estate Limited) , a Chinese insurance-technology firm, opened up 16% and was last trading 12.1% higher.
Still, analysts said investors should remain upbeat on the region's prospects, following stronger industrial-goods data out of China and a better U.S. factory goods reading, both for August.
"It is very clear that investors are responding to a better growth outlook," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.