Asian stocks were mostly lower on Thursday following a subdued lead from Wall Street, while the dollar pulled up from near two-week lows and sterling languished under the weight of political fears one week before Britain’s election. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dipped 0.2 percent and looked set for its fifth straight session of losses as investors took profits after stocks hit a two-year high last week and as economic and geopolitical concerns continued to weigh on sentiment. Japan’s Nikkei advanced 0.8 percent after data showing recurring first-quarter corporate profits were the highest on record for the January to March period. An increase in capital expenditure in the first quarter also adds to a raft of recent data pointing to economic expansion.
Manufacturing growth in Japan also rose to a three-month high, according to a business survey. Australian stocks retreated 0.2 percent. South Korea’s KOSPI fell 0.3 percent and the Korean won weakened 0.2 percent to trade at 1,121 won to the dollar after data showed factory activity in May shrank for the 10th straight month. Overnight, Wall Street closed slightly lower as financials lost ground after JPMorgan and Bank of America warned of revenue weakness in the current quarter, but gains in defensive plays offset the decline.
All three major U.S. indexes ended May in positive territory. The dollar gained after touching a near two-week low against the yen overnight. It was up 0.2 percent from its previous close at 110.95 early on Thursday, its first positive session in five, but concerns about U.S. politics capped gains. President Donald Trump’s administration has been the focus of independent investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several congressional panels over alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion by the Trump campaign.
The House intelligence committee on Wednesday approved subpoenas for Trump’s former national security advisor and personal lawyer in connected with the Russian meddling probe. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major peers, inched up 0.1 percent to 97.039 after posting a 0.4 percent loss on Wednesday. “The dollar remains pressured by the mounting dysfunction in Washington that has all but eliminated hopes for a bold fiscal stimulus package from the Trump administration,” said Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington.
Clouding the picture further was a mixed bag of economic data on Wednesday. Pending home sales fell for a second straight month in April, hindered by a lack of supply, while an index of U.S. Midwest manufacturing activity rose in May. Sterling retreated 0.15 percent to $1.2872 on Thursday after a YouGov poll showed Prime Minister Theresa May could lose control of parliament in Britain’s June 8 election, raising the prospect of political turmoil just as formal Brexit talks begin. Other polls, however, show May winning a big majority.
In commodities, oil prices attempted to claw back some of the losses posted on Wednesday after an increase in Libyan output helped boost monthly OPEC production for the first time this year. Global benchmark Brent advanced 1.8 percent to $51.21 a barrel after slumping 3 percent on Wednesday. U.S. crude rose 1 percent to $48.82, after plunging 2.7 percent in the previous session. Gold was steady at $1,267.91 an ounce.