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Market Update

Asian Stocks Pull Back; Earnings Buoy Hang Seng

Most Asian markets gave up early gains to finish lower Friday, but a string of upbeat corporate results kept the Hang Seng afloat.

At close, the Hang Seng was up 0.7% but the Shanghai Composite dropped 1%. The Nikkei lost 0.3%, the Sensex erased 0.7% while the S&P/ASX All Ordinaries finished flat.

Sentiment was positive at open as investors took cues from overnight gains on Wall Street, and on heels of some positive corporate results. But as the day advanced most of the indexes lost steam and plunged into the red.

In economic news, Japan’s core consumer price index dropped for the fifth straight month in a row, coming at a worse-than-expected 0.5% lower in the previous month as compared with -0.3% in February.

Traders feared the latest deflation data meant the central bank’s target of 2% inflation would not be an easy task to achieve.

Stocks on the move

Most of the stock movements in the region were earnings-related.

Japan Tobacco Inc. rose 2.7% in Tokyo after the company said it expected record full year profit for the current fiscal on the back of strength in its overseas business and the yen's weakness. 

Sony Corp edged up 0.3% as the electronic firm posted its first annual profit in five years. The company also doubled its full year profit outlook.

Komatsu Ltd. notched up 2.6% after posting full-year results.

Among other performers on the Nikkei were steel players and retailers. Kobe Steel surged more than 7% while retailer Fast Retailing moved up 4.7%.

But most other exporters in Tokyo were trading in the red on account of the yen's strength against its global peers. Financials, realty firms and oil stocks added to the losses.

In Hong Kong, China Unicom added 2.6% after posting higher first quarter earnings.

BYD Co. Ltd. soared 12.2% after the battery and car manufacturer's net profit increased more than four times in the first quarter.

China Life Insurance Co. was up 1.4% after recording a 79.1% increase in first-quarter net profits.

Similarly Bank of China rose 1.4%, PetroChina Co. gained over 2% and Wynn Macau inched up 0.4% after posting upbeat results.

In Mumbai, telecom operator Idea Cellular rose 5.2% after its first-quarter results topped estimates.

Among other gainers, Maruti Suzuki accelerated 5.3%, Bharti Airtel soared 4.6%, Bajaj Auto enhanced over 3% while Gail India added 1.8%.

But losses in metal firms, financial stocks, IT players and FMCG companies weighed on the 30-share benchmark index. Top losers included Jindal Steel (-4.3%), Reliance Industries (-3.2%), ICICI Bank (-2.9%) and Hindustan Unilever (-2.7%).

In Sydney, miners raced ahead as investors returned after a holiday to find commodity prices up. 

Index leader BHP Billiton gained 2.8% while Rio Tinto followed closely, up 2.1%. Gold miner Newcrest Mining bounced over 3.6%.

Graincorp Ltd. vaulted nearly 8% after the grain exporter accepted Archer Daniel Midland Co.'s $2.9 billion takeover bid. 

But Virgin Australia Holdings fell over 1% after Singapore Airlines said it lifted its stake in the Australian carrier to 19.9%. 

ResMed Inc. was also down around 1% despite posting record revenue and income in the first quarter.