Asian Markets Mostly Lower As Ukraine Invasion Fears Linger

Asian stocks ended mostly lower on Friday, but losses were limited after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accepted an invitation to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late next week.

China’s Shanghai Composite index rose 22.72 points, or 0.66 percent, to 3,490.76 as property developers gained ground after more cities eased mortgage rules for home buyers.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 465.06 points, or 1.88 percent, to 24,327.71 after the Biden administration added several major Chinese businesses to a list of counterfeiters.

Japanese stocks cut losses to end modestly lower as fears of war in Ukraine receded. The Nikkei average ended down 110.80 points, or 0.41 percent, at 27,122.07, while the broader Topix index closed 0.36 percent lower at 1,924.31.

Factory robot maker Fanuc led losses to close 5.8 percent lower. Tech stocks such as Advantest, Renesas and Tokyo Electron lost 1-2 percent. Trend Micro gave up 3.7 percent after posting disappointing results.

Data released earlier in the day showed that key inflation measure in the country weakened last month.

Australian markets ended sharply lower despite Sydney and Melbourne easing more COVID-19 curbs amid a steady fall in hospital cases. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 fell 74.50 points, or 1.02 percent, to 7,221.70 while the broader All Ordinaries index ended down 72 points, or 0.95 percent, at 7,502.80.

QBE Insurance slumped 8.7 percent after its full-year profit fell short of market expectations. Troubled investment manager Magellan Financial jumped 18.5 percent after its half-year profit rose by 24 percent.

Technology stocks followed their U.S. peers lower while higher gold prices in the wake of heightened tensions in Ukraine lifted gold miners.

Seoul stocks recovered from an early slide to finish marginally higher. Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and Naver declined 1-2 percent.

New Zealand shares retreated, with the benchmark NZX-50 index ending down 114.93 points, or 0.94 percent, at 12,141.89 amid rising geopolitical tensions between Washington and Russia over Ukraine.

Technology and growth stocks were sold off, with heavyweight Fisher & Paykel Healthcare losing 2.3 percent. Pacific Edge and Serko fell 5-6 percent, while Sky Network Television rallied 3.6 percent after signing a deal to become the exclusive TV rights holder of the Premier League in New Zealand.

The Reserve Bank is meeting on Feb 23, with analysts expecting the central bank to raise the official cash rate by a further 25 basis points.

U.S. stocks sank overnight after Ukrainian forces and pro-Moscow rebels traded fire in eastern Ukraine and top U.S. leaders insisted that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent.

Adding to the concerns, the State Department said Russia has expelled the deputy chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Moscow without any justification. The Dow dropped 1.8 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index plunged 2.9 percent and the S&P 500 shed 2.1 percent. 

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