Asian Markets Mostly Lower

Asian stock markets are mostly lower on Thursday with modest losses following the lackluster cues overnight from Wall Street and as investors preferred to remain on the sidelines due to a lack of fresh catalysts.

Investors digested news that the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump, making him the third U.S. president to be impeached. Trump will now face a Senate trial next month. However, removing the president from office requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate, where the Republicans enjoy control.

The Australian market drifted lower after a positive start as investors digested data that showed Australia's employment rebounded strongly in November. The data diminished hopes of an interest rate cut by the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is declining 13.40 points or 0.20 percent to 6,838.00, after rising to a high of 6,872.80 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is down 10.80 points or 0.16 percent to 6,946.20. Australian stocks closed flat with a positive bias on Wednesday.

In the banking space, ANZ Banking, Westpac Banking and Commonwealth Bank are higher in a range of 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent, while National Australia Bank is lower by 0.4 percent.

Oil stocks are mostly higher with modest gains after crude oil prices ended almost flat overnight. Woodside Petroleum is adding 0.3 percent and Oil Search is edging up 0.1 percent, while Santos is down 0.1 percent.

Among the major miners, Rio Tinto and BHP are down 0.2 percent each, while Fortescue Metals is adding 0.4 percent.

Gold miners are weak after gold prices edged lower overnight. Evolution Mining is losing almost 2 percent and Newcrest Mining is declining 0.4 percent.

Australia's competition watchdog, the ACCC, has raised concerns over Seven West Media's proposed A$40 million sale of its Pacific Magazines titles to German-based rival Bauer Media. Shares of Seven West Media are unchanged.

Striking Jetstar staff announced they will not strike until after Christmas and the New Year holiday period even as Jetstar, a subsidiary of Qantas Airways, proactively cancelled 28 flights across Australia on Thursday. Shares of Qantas are higher by almost 1 percent.

Lynas Corp. says its project to build a rare earths-processing plant in Kalgoorlie will get planning assistance from the WA state government as the plant was awarded a so-called "lead agency" status by the government. The rare earths miner's shares are advancing more than 1 percent.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the unemployment rate in Australia came in at a seasonally adjusted 5.2 percent in November. That was beneath expectations for 5.3 percent, which would have been unchanged from the October reading.

The Australian economy added 39,900 jobs last month to 12,954,400, blowing away expectations for an increase of 15,000 jobs following the loss of 19,000 jobs a month earlier.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is higher against the U.S. dollar on Thursday. The local currency was quoted at $0.6851, compared to $0.6845 on Wednesday.

The Japanese market is modestly lower following the lackluster cues overnight from Wall Street and as investors remained cautious ahead of the Bank of Japan's monetary policy decision due today.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is declining 23.13 points or 0.10 percent to 23,911.30, after touching a low of 23,899.52 in early trades. Japanese shares declined on Wednesday.

Market heavyweight SoftBank Group Corp. is advancing more than 1 percent, while Fast Retailing is down 0.6 percent.

The major exporters are mostly higher on a weaker yen. Mitsubishi Electric is advancing almost 1 percent, Sony is rising 0.6 percent and Panasonic is adding 0.3 percent, while Canon is edging down 0.1 percent.

Among auto stocks, Toyota Motor is higher by 0.6 percent while Honda Motor is declining 0.5 percent. In the oil sector, Inpex and Japan Petroleum are adding almost 1 percent each even as crude oil prices ended flat overnight.

In the tech space, Advantest is higher by more than 2 percent, while Tokyo Electron is losing 0.6 percent.

Among the other major gainers, Hitachi is gaining more than 4 percent, while Suzuki Motor and Sumco Corp. are higher by more than 2 percent each.

Hitachi said Wednesday it will sell a 51 percent stake in its chemicals unit Hitachi Chemical to Showa Denko for 494 billion yen and its diagnostic imaging business to Fujifilm Holdings for 179 billion yen.

On the flip side, Isuzu Motors is losing almost 4 percent, while Toyo Seikan Group, Pacific Metals and Olympus Corp. are declining more than 2 percent each.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the upper 109 yen-range on Thursday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan are also modestly lower. Meanwhile, New Zealand is advancing almost 1 percent and South Korea is edging higher.

On Wall Street, stocks closed a lackluster session almost unchanged on Wednesday as the news the U.S. and China have agreed on a phase one trade deal helped maintain positive sentiment, but traders seem reluctant to make significant moves. Overall trading activity remained light throughout the day, with a lack of major U.S. economic data keeping some traders on the sidelines.

While the Nasdaq inched up 4.38 points or 0.1 percent to 8,827.73, the Dow dipped 27.88 points or 0.1 percent to 28,239.28 and the S&P 500 edged down 1.38 points or less than a tenth of a percent to 3,191.14.

The major European markets also ended mixed on Wednesday. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index crept up by 0.2 percent, the French CAC 40 Index edged down by 0.2 percent and the German DAX Index fell by 0.5 percent.

Crude oil futures ended little changed on Wednesday after data from Energy Information Administration or EIA showed a much smaller than expected decline in crude stockpiles in the U.S. last week. WTI crude for January ended $0.01 down at $60.93 a barrel.

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