Dollar Weakness Weighs on Asia Markets

Asian markets traded sideways on Friday in a light regional data day.

The Nikkei 225 Index faded 68.55 points, or 0.4%, to 19,521.59

The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong gained 21.65 points, or 0.1%, to 24,309.93

China pledged a firm response if Japan were to interfere in the South China Sea, after media reported on a Japanese plan to send its largest warship, the Izumo helicopter carrier, to the disputed waters.

The carrier is expected to make stops in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka before joining the Malabar joint naval exercise with Indian and U.S. naval vessels in the Indian Ocean in July. This would be Japan's biggest show of naval force in the region since World War Two.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore's posted its strongest non-oil domestic exports in February, up 21.5% on-year. The February export figures beat an economist poll of an expected 12.8% gain from the previous year.

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong's flag carrier, was up 1.3% after the company confirmed a media report that it would target deep management cost cuts at its headquarters by 30%. The airline reported its first full-year net loss last year since 2008.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heads to Seoul today, as part of his visit to Asia. Tillerson said on Thursday in Japan that part of his visit was to find a "new approach" to deal with threats from North Korea.

One of Australia's "Big Four" banks, National Australia Bank, said it would raise rates on variable home loans for owner occupiers and investment properties.

The yen traded at 113.31 against the U.S. dollar early Asian morning and the Australian dollar fetched $0.7685 U.S.

CHINA

In Shanghai, the CSI 300 dropped 35.7 points, or 1%, to 3,445.81

The Chinese group known as the Global CEO Fortune Club launched its first overseas fund on Thursday with an aim to invest in Australian infrastructure projects. The group expects to find opportunities for public-private partnership from its base in Melbourne.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman oversaw the signing of deals worth as much as $65 million U.S. on the first day of a visit to Beijing. Some of the deals included a memorandum of understanding between Saudi Aramco and China North Industrial Group to look into building more plants in China.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve had raised interest rates and the People's Bank of China followed and lifted its short-term interest rates on Thursday.

In other markets

The Kospi Index in Korea picked up 14.5 points, or 0.7%, to 2,164.58

In Taiwan, the Taiex hiked 70.86 points, or 0.7%, to 9,908.68

In Singapore, the Straits Times Index squeezed ahead 5.86 points, or 0.2%, to 3,169.38

In New Zealand, the NZX 50 gained 6.16 points, or 0.1%, to 7,158.14

In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 gathered 13.86 points, or 0.2%, to 5,799.65