Asia markets trade cautiously; ASX flat, Nikkei down slightly in early trade

The Japan Exchange Group logo is displayed on a glass door at the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo, Japan.

Kiyoshi Ota | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Japan Exchange Group logo is displayed on a glass door at the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo, Japan.

Asia markets were cautious in early trade on Thursday, following an overnight mixed session in the U.S. as renewed trade concerns offset strong gains in tech.

In Australia, the benchmark ASX 200 traded near flat as the materials subindex declined 1.24 percent. Major mining names were down, with shares of Rio Tinto lower by 2.73 percent, Fortescue Metals down 0.92 percent and BHP down 1.74 percent.

On Wednesday, Rio Tinto said its first-half profit rose 12 percent but that missed analyst estimates. The global miner also announced plans to buy back an additional $1 billion in shares, aiming for completion by the end of February 2019.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 was down 0.21 percent while the Topix index traded near flat. In South Korea, the Kospi was down 0.14 percent.

The Trump administration announced it is looking at the possibility of slapping a 25 percent tariff on $200 billion worth of imported Chinese goods — from the initial 10 percent announced earlier.

“This comes after China said that blackmail will not work on them and that they would retaliate against the U.S. if additional trade measures are imposed,” said Daniel Hynes, from ANZ Research, in a morning note.

The Federal Reserve concluded a two-day meeting on monetary policy and left interest rates unchanged. The Wednesday decision was widely expected, but the central bank upgraded its view on the economy, calling it “strong.”

The U.S. dollar traded at 94.638 against the dollar index basket of currencies at 8:05 a.m. HK/SIN, rising from levels below 94.500 earlier in the week. The Japanese yen traded at 111.65 to the greenback while the Australian dollar fetched $0.7401.

Oil prices fell about 2 percent overnight following a surprise increase in U.S. crude inventory that led to renewed concerns about oversupply. U.S. crude inventories rose 3.8 million barrels in the previous week as imports jumped, according to the Energy Information Administration. The market was expecting a decrease of 2.8 million barrels.

U.S. crude futures fell 1.6 percent to $67.66 a barrel while global benchmark Brent lost 2.5 percent to $72.39 a barrel.

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