Asian Stocks Little Changed as BHP Billiton Drags Index Lower

Aug 20, 2014 9:06 am ET

Aug. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Asian stocks were little changed after valuations reached the highest level this year and as BHP Billiton Ltd. slumped, dragging materials shares to the largest decline on the regional gauge.

BHP, the world’s largest miner, slid 3.9 percent in Sydney after announcing a spinoff and refraining from a share buyback expected by some investors. Biostime International Holdings Ltd. tumbled 11 percent in Hong Kong after the maker of infant formula posted first-half results that missed estimates. QBE Insurance Group Ltd. jumped 5.6 percent in Sydney as it completed a A$650 million ($604 million) share placement. The MSCI Hong Kong Index climbed 1.3 percent to a record close.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index slipped 0.1 percent to 148.63 as of 8:59 p.m. in Hong Kong. The gauge closed yesterday within 1 percent of a six-year high as concern eased over global conflicts. Data yesterday showed U.S. inflation remained subdued and housing starts jumped as the Federal Reserve monitors economic reports to help gauge the timing of interest-rate increases.

“With valuations full, it doesn’t take much to disappoint the market,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “Short-term traders are reversing their position on BHP today. Economic news from the U.S. last night did nothing to dispel the picture of a favorable macro environment for stocks.”

Japan Trade

Japan’s Topix index slid less than 0.1 percent. Exports rose more than than estimated in July while imports unexpectedly increased. Hitachi Metals Ltd. added 3.2 percent to 1,790 yen after unveiling plans to buy Waupaca Foundry Inc. for $1.3 billion.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index gained 0.2 percent, extending a six-year high. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, which tracks mainland Chinese companies listed in the city, lost 0.4 percent, and the Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.2 percent. Biostime sank 11 percent to HK$33.05. India’s S&P BSE Sensex Index declined 0.4 percent.

Singapore’s Straits Times Index rose 0.2 percent and Taiwan’s Taiex index gained 0.5 percent. South Korea’s Kospi index added 0.1 percent. New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index advanced 0.5 percent, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index climbed 0.2 percent to the highest close since June 2008.

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipped 0.1 percent today after the gauge closed yesterday within 0.3 percent of an all-time high. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 0.4 percent, its fifth straight day of increases, to close at the highest level since 2000. Apple Inc. closed at a record high.

U.S. Inflation

U.S. inflation weakened to the slowest pace in five months in July, holding below the Federal Reserve’s target. Minutes of the Fed’s July 29-30 meeting, when the stimulatory bond-buying program was reduced by $10 billion for a sixth time, are released today and Fed Chair Janet Yellen will speak to global central bankers later this week.

Yellen, who has said key rates will stay low for a considerable time after the conclusion of asset purchases, will speak on labor markets Aug. 22 at the Fed Bank of Kansas City’s economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Policy makers including European Central Bank President Mario Draghi will attend.

The U.S. consumer price index rose 0.1 percent in July from the previous month and was up 2 percent from a year earlier, matching median economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

QBE climbed 5.6 percent, the most since May 2013, to A$11.31. The Australian insurer’s share sale and debt refinancing will raise about $1.5 billion, Chief Executive Officer John Neal said on a call with reporters yesterday.

BHP Spinoff

BHP lost 3.9 percent to A$38.13. The world’s largest miner yesterday announced it’s poised for the biggest spinoff in the industry, separating aluminum, coal and silver assets to create a company valued around $15 billion after it begins trading next year. BHP’s London-listed shares fell the most in almost three years. A decision to skip a widely anticipated share purchase will disappoint investors, who had expected a $3 billion buyback, Citigroup Inc. said.

Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. lost 2.1 percent to A$9.54 in Sydney after flagging a second consecutive drop in full-year earnings amid weak consumer confidence and rising costs in Indonesia.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index traded at 13.7 times estimated earnings at the close, compared with 16.6 for the S&P 500 and 15.2 for the Stoxx Europe 600 Index yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.