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Asian Markets Inch Higher; Chinese Yuan Holds Gains Against U.S Dollar

Stocks in Asia-Pacific were mostly higher in Friday trade, with the Chinese yuan holding on to recent gains against the dollar.

Mainland Chinese stocks were higher by the afternoon, with the Shanghai composite up 0.57% while the Shenzhen component advanced 0.415%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was 0.31% higher.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 was fractionally higher while the Topix index gained 0.37%. South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.11%.

Shares in Australia bucked the overall trend as they edged down, with the S&P/ASX 200 0.12% lower.

Overall, the MSCI Asia ex-Japan index gained 0.33%.

In corporate developments, shares of Malaysian glove maker Top Glove were up about 2% in Friday trade.

The firm on Thursday announced its earnings for the fourth quarter and full financial year 2020, with profit after tax for the full financial year 2020 surging 417% from the previous financial year. In a press release, the firm said the “tremendous growth stemmed from a global surge in demand for gloves on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Meanwhile, developments on the coronavirus pandemic could also weigh on investor sentiment. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for Europe on Thursday warned of a “very serious situation” unfolding in Europe.

“Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March,” said WHO’s Hans Klug in a press briefing on the situation in the region.

The onshore Chinese yuan, which strengthened significantly against the greenback in recent days, gained further to 6.7555 per dollar following levels above 6.81 seen earlier this week. It’s offshore counterpart changed hands at 6.7519 per dollar.

“As the dollar has entered this dollar depreciation, this weaker dollar environment, the (yuan) has somewhat lagged.” said JPMorgan Private Bank’s Alex Wolf.

“When we’re looking at the (yuan), we actually haven’t seen a move up that much until recently,” Wolf, who is head of investment strategy for Asia at the firm, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Friday. He added that the Chinese currency likely has “more catch-up to go.”

Shares of technology firms in Asia-Pacific traded mixed on Friday. In Japan, shares of conglomerate Softbank Group slipped 1.31% while Sharp rose 1.05%. Over in South Korea, industry heavyweight Samsung Electronics’ stock slipped 0.5% while Kakao advanced 0.4%.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-listed shares of Chinese tech giant Tencent dropped 1.61% while Xiaomi jumped 2.35%.

The regional moves in tech stocks came amid renewed pressure seen in stocks of their counterparts on Wall Street. Overnight stateside, the Nasdaq Composite fell 1.3% to close at 10,910.28.The tech-heavy benchmark briefly dipped back into correction territory, down 10% from its all-time high.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average snapped a four-day winning streak as it slipped 130.40 points, or 0.5%, to end its trading day at 27,901.98. The S&P 500 dropped 0.8%, or 28.48 points, to 3,357.01.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, sat at 92.931 after falling from levels above 93.3 earlier in the trading week.

The Japanese yen traded at 104.79 per dollar, having strengthened from levels above 105.5 against the greenback seen earlier this week. The Australian dollar was at $0.7321, in a trading week that has seen it swinging between levels below $0.729 and above $0.732.

Oil prices were higher in the afternoon of Asian trading hours, with international benchmark Brent crude futures up about 0.5% to $43.52 per barrel. U.S. crude futures gained 0.39% to $41.13 per barrel.