Asia Mixed on Profit-Taking; Banks in Focus

Hong Kong shares started the week on a marginally higher note, led by strength in HSBC shares.

The benchmark Hang Seng Index inched up 0.06 percent to 23,345.2 points while the China Enterprises Index rose 0.1 percent.

HSBC rose nearly 1.2 percent as part of broader grains in banking stocks on Monday.

Hong-Kong listed property developer Shui On Land slumped 2.8 percent after it expects its full year 2012 profit to drop significantly due to fewer properties being delivered during the period.

Mainland Chinese shares made a turnaround to enter positive territory by late morning trade.

The Shanghai Composite Index nudged up 0.2 percent to 2,280.9.

China’s Big Four banks were poor performers on Monday with China Construction Bank leading losses by 0.7 percent while Industrial and Commercial Bank of China lost 0.5 percent.

Seoul shares fell in choppy trade as investors took profits in sectors that have made recent gains before the onset of the corporate earnings reports’ season.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) lost 0.6 percent to 2,000 points.

Tech shares fell as the mid-session approached. Market heavyweight Samsung Electronics dropped 0.7 percent ahead of its fourth earnings estimate to be announced on early Tuesday. LG Electronics slipped 0.6 percent while Samsung SDI fell 1.6 percent.

But auto shares gained after falling 6.5 percent during the previous week as the weakening yen was expected to benefit Japanese competitors. Hyundai Motor climbed 0.7 percent.

Australian shares were flat on Monday, off-setting initial gains led by banking stocks. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index inched down 0.03 percent to 4,722.3 points.

Banks were mostly strong, with Australia and New Zealand Banking leading gains by 0.6 percent. Commonwealth Bank of Australia dropped 0.5 percent after hitting an all time high of A$63.70.

Miners were were weak, BHP Billiton lost 0.5 percent while rival Rio Tinto dropped 1.4 percent as it considers suspending operations in the Northern Territory.

Lynas jumped 8 percent after it said it expects to begin commercial production at its rare earths plant in Malaysia in the next few weeks, with a ramp up in production to take place over the next three months.

New Zealand’s benchmark NZX 50 index inched up 0.2 percent to 4,083.1 points.

Over in Southeast Asia, both Singapore’s Straits Times Index and Malaysia’s KLCI Composite Index nudged up 0.2 percent.

India’s BSE Index gained 0.1 percent while the 50-share NSE Index was flat.

The start of the fourth-quarter U.S. earnings season could help determine the mood for global equity markets, with aluminum producer Alcoa unofficially kicking off earnings after the market close on Tuesday.

Investors will also be watching policy meetings by the European Central Bank and the Bank of England this week to see if either central bank will modify their benchmark interest rates.