Sydney shares lead declines as rest of Asia turn positive

Asian markets, with the exception of Australia, turned positive by mid-morning trade on Monday, as a modestly positive lead from Wall Street offset the impact of sliding oil prices.

U.S. stocks snapped a four-day losing streak to settle mildly higher on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (Dow Jones Global Indexes: .DJI) and the S&P 500 (^GSPC) closed up 0.2 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC) finished 0.6 percent higher.

ASX falls 1.4%

Australia’s S&P ASX 200 index hit a one-and-a-half-week low, with Caltex Australia (ASX:CTX-AU) leading declines after U.S. energy giant Chevron (CVX) sold its entire stake in the refiner for $ 3.7 billion. Shares of Caltex Australia plunged 10 percent.

The resources sector was heavily-hit by sliding commodity prices. Among miners, Fortescue Metals (ASX:FMG-AU) lost 3.5 percent, while BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP-AU) and Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO-AU) dropped 2 and 1.7 percent each. The oil and gas industry also saw steep declines, with Santos (ASX:STO-AU) down 6 percent.

Copper and gold miner PanAust (ASX:PNA-AU) soared 40 percent on the back of news that China’s Guangdong Rising Assets Management approached it with a takeover bid for the third time.

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Nikkei gains 0.5%

Japan’s Nikkei 225 widened gains by mid-morning trade, with index heavyweights providing upward momentum to shrug off disappointing data released before the market open. Industrial production dropped 3.4 percent in February from the previous month, marking the biggest drop since June last year. The result compared with expectations for a 1.8 percent decline and a 3.7 percent gain in January.

Fast Retailing (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 9983.T-JP), owner of clothes brand Uniqlo, piled on 2.8 percent, while Softbank (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 9984.T-JP) and Fanuc (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 6954.T-JP) elevated 0.5 and 0.7 percent each.

Among top losers, petroleum and metals conglomerate JX Holdings (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 5020.T-JP) and Inpex (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 1605.T-JP) lost more than 3 percent each as U.S. crude fell below $ 48.50 a barrel in early Asian trading.

Mobile game developer Gumi (Tokyo Stock Exchange: 3903.T-JP) dived 10.3 percent after announcing plans to sell its assets and a 10 percent reduction of its workforce last Friday.

Mainland indices up

China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite index opened to a fresh seven-year high as comments from authorities over the weekend fueled expectations of further stimulus.

“[Beijing] said that growth is on the lower side so maybe there’s a need to do something. It’s very consistent with what they’ve been highlighting over the last couple of weeks in terms of what they want to do in terms of stimulus,” Herald Van Der Linde, head of Equity Strategy, Asia-Pacific at HSBC, told CNBC. “So we think there’s more to come from China.”

Airlines and shipping plays led gains. China Southern Airlines (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 29-SZ) rallied 4.2 percent, while Air China (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1111-SZ) and China Eastern Airlines (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 115-SZ) bounced up nearly 3 percent, respectively, on the back of lower crude oil prices. In the shipping industry, China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) jumped 6.6 percent.

Oil majors appeared unaffected in early trade; PetroChina and Sinopec held near the flatline, while China Oilfield Services (Shanghai Stock Exchange: 1808-SZ) ticked up 0.3 percent.

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Kospi adds 0.3%

South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index headed north in early trade, buoyed by blue-ship stocks such as Samsung Electronics (Korea Stock Exchange: 593-KR) and Hyundai Motor, which advanced 0.4 and 0.3 percent each.

However, losses among energy-related counters capped gains. SK Innovation (Korea Stock Exchange: 9677-KR) and S-Oil (Korea Stock Exchange: 1095-KR) eased 2.3 and 0.8 percent, respectively. Dongkuk Steel tanked 6.4 percent as prosecutors launched an investigation into one of the country’s top steelmakers over allegations of large-scale embezzlement and tax evasion.

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