Asia Markets: Asian markets go their separate ways ahead of Lunar New Year holiday

Asia-Pacific equity markets broke away from their recent lockstep trading, as the global stock rout over the past two weeks abated and local factors took center stage.

U.S. benchmarks rose modestly Tuesday after fresh declines in most of Europe. The S&P 500’s trading range, which was within the levels the index moved on Monday, indicates “overall caution” among investors, said Ric Spooner, chief market strategist at CMC Markets.

Indexes in Hong Kong HSI, +1.20%   and South Korea rose more than 0.5% Wednesday, with the Kospi SEU, +1.06%   helped by a 2.9% jump in Samsung Electronics 005930, +2.82%  . That put the electronic giant’s gains for the week at 9.4%, which erased most of the month’s decline.

In Hong Kong, index heavyweight Tencent Holdings 0700, +1.80%   is up 5% this week, nearly halving its February pullback.

Japanese stocks fared the worst, pressured by a rallying yen. The Nikkei Stock Average NIK, -0.06%   was recently down 1.2% as the U.S. dollar JPYUSD, +0.603719%   fell to a 15-month low of ¥106.85. It traded around ¥108.30 at the end of stock trading Tuesday.

Cautious risk sentiment amid stock volatility is likely buoying the safe-haven currency, said Heng Koon How, head of markets strategy for United Overseas Bank in Singapore. He said he expects the yen to remain strong, with some Bank of Japan officials facing the end of their term in next two months.

The yen’s move came as Japan said its fourth-quarter economic growth slowed, missing analysts’ expectations. Still, the economy has grown for eight straight quarters, the longest run in 28 years.

New Zealand’s NZX 50 NZ50GR, -0.78%   closed down 0.8% as Fletcher Building FBU, -9.27%   slumped 9.3% to a two-year low after it revealed additional losses at its building-and-interiors division. The company’s shares were halted for nearly a week after Fletcher said Thursday it expected more red ink for the segment.

Chinese stocks SHCOMP, +0.18%   were slightly lower ahead of the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday. Markets there will be closed until Feb. 22.

Trading in the region will slow as the Lunar New Year holiday approaches. Taiwan’s stock market closed yesterday , and others in Asia will only see a half-day of trading on Thursday before being shut Friday.

U.S. consumer inflation data is due to be released later Wednesday. Inflation worries have driven global bond yields higher. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was recently at 2.81% versus 2.837% in late New York trading.

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