HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian investors moved with caution in Friday (Dec 28) trade after days of volatility on global financial markets failed to boost confidence.
In Tokyo, stocks were trading 0.5 per cent lower by the break despite a late rally in New York, as investors cashed in after the previous day's strong rises.
With the trading year winding down, the Nikkei index is heading for its first closure with an annual loss in seven years.
"It's inevitable that selling emerges after sharp rises like yesterday's," said Mr Makoto Sengoku, market analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Centre.
Over the year, Tokyo's bellwether index has lost more than 10 per cent.
"The Nikkei scored annual gains for the past six years under Abenomics but it's not the case any more," Mr Sengoku said, referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pro-spending policies.
"This is because of large swings caused by the Trump administration rather than domestic problems," he told AFP, noting US President Donald Trump's trade spat with China weighed particularly on the market.
Investors moved cautiously across other Asian markets on Friday, with the Hang Seng in Hong Kong hovering between positive and negative territory for much of the morning.
In Sydney, shares were up 0.6 per cent in morning trade, Bangkok slipped 0.5 per cent, and Seoul's Kospi shares index gained 0.6 per cent.
Volatility reigned supreme across global markets this week, as investors wrestled with worries about slowing global growth, trade wars, the Brexit process and a US government shutdown.
A choppy day's trading on Wall Street finished solidly higher on Thursday, following a late session surge, but European markets suffered deep declines that dented investor hopes of finishing 2018 with gains.
Frankfurt is now nearly 20 per cent down from the start of the year, London has declined more than 14 per cent and Paris more than 13 per cent.
And while Wall Street staged its best rally in nine years the day after Christmas, US markets opened meekly on Thursday and confidence was hit by disappointing consumer confidence data.
Where stocks head from here is "anyone's guess", as uncertainty looks set to continue into the first quarter of 2019, Mr Ben Emons, managing director at Medley Global Advisors, told Bloomberg.
Mr Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at Oanda, warned: "This roller-coaster ride is unlikely to stop anytime soon, as investors continue to wear emotions on their sleeve."
In the commodity markets, oil rebounded by as much as 3 per cent in Asian trade on Friday after rising US crude inventories pushed prices lower in the previous session - underscoring concerns that a supply glut will continue to weigh down on the market.
Gold prices reached US$1,276.83 (S$1,746.83) an ounce, the highest in more than six months.