HONG KONG – Asian markets were largely muted on Tuesday, tracking a retreat in New York as anticipation builds ahead of major earnings reports and a Federal Reserve policy meeting.
Hong Kong shed 0.3 percent, Tokyo and Shanghai were flat and Sydney lost 0.2 percent.
But Seoul gained 0.9 percent as South Korean tech giant Samsung announced a record profit for the July to September period, its best for any quarter, and said it would double its dividends next year.
The world’s biggest memory chip and smartphone maker has faced multiple challenges since last year, including a humiliating recall of its flagship Galaxy Note 7 handsets and a corruption scandal that engulfed its de facto leader.
But its profits and share price have rocketed this year, thanks to strong demand for its memory chips and revived smartphone sales following the roll-out of the new-generation Galaxy Note 8.
Its quarterly net profits soared to 11.2 trillion won ($10.0 billion) — a jump of 148 percent on the same period a year earlier — and Samsung shares rose 1.92 percent on Tuesday.
Samsung Electronics is the key subsidiary of the sprawling Samsung Group, whose heir Lee Jae-Yong was found guilty in August of bribery, perjury and other charges stemming from payments to the secret confidante of ousted president Park Geun-Hye.
Tokyo shares clawed back earlier losses to end flat after Japan’s central bank announced it would maintain its 2.0-percent inflation target — seen as crucial in a long battle against deflation that is blamed for holding back the once-booming economy.
A stronger yen weighed on automakers, with Toyota losing 1.2 percent and Honda falling 0.5 percent, while SoftBank plunged on reports that talks over a planned telecoms mega-merger had been cancelled.
SoftBank fell 4.6 percent, after leading business daily Nikkei reported that merger talks between its US subsidiary Sprint and fellow wireless operator T-Mobile — controlled by Deutsche Telekom — had been scrapped.
In other downbeat news, Chinese manufacturing growth slowed in October after two consecutive months of acceleration, according to official data released Tuesday, due to weak demand and a drop in production because of public holidays and restrictions before a key Communist Party meeting.
In early European trade, London gained almost 0.2 percent while Paris was flat. Frankfurt was closed for a German public holiday.
BIG WEEK FOR U.S.
Investors are braced for a busy news week in the US, with President Donald Trump expected to say whether he will replace Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen. The announcement is likely by Friday before he embarks on an Asian tour.
Traders are also keeping a close eye on the release of the October jobs report on Friday.
News of the first indictments over the FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election have also sparked caution among investors.
“The scope of Special Prosecutor (Robert) Mueller’s investigation will likely widen. But at this stage, we have no idea if there’s a smoking gun or it’s all a tempest in a teapot,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA.
There are fears the probe could potentially derail Trump’s tax cut plans, which have boosted investor optimism.
A guilty plea by George Papadopoulos — a foreign policy adviser on Trump’s campaign — is seen as the strongest evidence yet of possible collusion between the campaign and Russia.
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