Asian Stocks Slip, Nikkei Sees Mild Profit-Taking At 34-Year Highs

Most Asian stocks fell on Tuesday, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 retreating as investors locked-in profits from a stellar rally, while focus turned to key upcoming economic indicators from China.

A U.S. market holiday gave regional markets few immediate trading cues, although risk appetite remained fragile amid concerns over an escalation in military action in the Middle East.

Weakness in commodity markets also dented some regional indexes.

Nikkei falls after six-day rally, but soft inflation keeps powder dry

The Nikkei 225 slipped 0.4% after rising for the past six sessions, which saw the index hit highs last seen before the unwinding of a massive speculative bubble in the 1990’s. The index remained comfortably above 35,500 points, with analysts speculating that its rally may still have legs.

Data on Tuesday showed persistent weakness in Japanese producer price index inflation, which points to little pressure on the Bank of Japan to consider pivoting away from its ultra-dovish stance.

Japanese consumer price index inflation, which is due this Friday, is also expected to fall further towards the BOJ’s 2% annual target. A dovish BOJ was a major driver of Japan’s stock rally through 2023, which saw the Nikkei add about 30%.

The TOPIX index fell 0.7% on Tuesday, also retreating from a 34-year high.

Broader Asian markets moved in a flat-to-low range. Australia’s ASX 200 was among the worst performers for the day, down nearly 1% as losses in commodity prices- specifically iron ore- weighed heavily on major mining stocks.

Analysts said the ASX was experiencing a technical sell-off after racing to near 2-½ year highs, at around 7,600 points.

A private survey also showed that Australian consumer sentiment worsened in January amid persistent concerns over high inflation and interest rates.

South Korea’s KOSPI fell 0.7% on weakness in heavyweight technology stocks, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 0.3%. Internet giant Baidu (HK:9888) rose nearly 3%, recovering from a 11.5% slump on Monday after it refuted media reports linking its Ernie artificial intelligence to the Chinese military.

Futures for India’s Nifty 50 index pointed to a negative open, with the index set for profit-taking after closing above 22,000 points for the first time ever on Monday. Strong earnings from heavyweight tech stocks were a key driver of the Nifty’s recent rally.

Chinese stocks rise amid rebound speculation; GDP awaited

China’s Shanghai Shenzhen CSI 300 and Shanghai Composite indexes saw some strength on Tuesday, recovering slightly after plummeting to multi-year lows in recent sessions.

The two indexes were among the worst-performing Asian bourses in 2023 as a post-COVID economic recovery failed to materialize.

But the steep losses also made Chinese markets attractive for bargain buying. Bloomberg reported that several fund managers, including Bell Asset, BlackRock (NYSE:BLK) and JPMorgan were looking at buying into local stocks after an extended rout put them at seemingly attractive valuations.

Focus was now on Chinese gross domestic product data for the fourth quarter, due on Wednesday. Growth is expected to have exceeded the government’s 5% annual target, although this was largely driven by a low base of comparison from 2022.

Industrial production and retail sales figures for December are also on tap. –

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