Asian stocks lower, investors assess ECB policy outlook

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Stock markets went into reverse on Thursday despite a positive lead from Wall Street as investors reassessed the outlook for monetary policy at the European Central Bank.

Wednesday marked the well-flagged formal start of the UK’s exit from the EU, but investors’ attention was diverted to a media report that the ECB’s policy intentions from its March meeting had been misinterpreted and the central bank was now wary of making changes to its upcoming April policy message.

The euro was down 0.1 per cent in Asia to an eight-session low of $1.0753, but had sunk 0.4 per cent yesterday in the wake of the report from Reuters. European stocks closed about 0.3 per cent higher on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in currency markets, the British pound was up 0.1 per cent on Thursday, recovering somewhat from a cumulative back-to-back loss of 1 per cent as the UK commenced formal proceedings to leave the EU.

The dollar index, a measure of the US currency against a basket of global peers, was up 0.1 per cent today at 100.07. The gauge was eyeing its first three-day gain since early March and its first close above 100 points in almost a fortnight.

The Japanese yen was 0.3 per cent weaker at ¥111.37 per dollar and the worst performer among major currencies.

Japan’s benchmark Topix was down 0.4 per cent while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged 0.2 per cent higher with solid gains in the energy sector after oil prices jumped overnight.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 0.4 per cent and China’s Shanghai Composite shed 0.5 per cent.

Shares in Samsung Electronics gained as much as 1.6 per cent after the South Korean company revealed its new flagship smartphone. In Hong Kong, shares in China Evergrande, the mainland’s largest property developer, hit a record high in the wake of plans announced earlier this week it would pay off its costliest debt.

The S&P 500 edged 0.1 per cent higher on Wednesday.

Relatively bullish data on US crude inventories pushed oil prices more than 2 per cent higher on Wednesday. Prices were coming off the boil a touch in Asia, with Brent crude, the international benchmark, down 0.2 per cent at $52.32 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate fractionally lower at $49.49.

Gold was down 0.4 per cent at $1,248.70 an ounce.

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