Asia Uniformly Lower on U.S. Diplomatic News

Asian markets closed lower on Wednesday following the sacking of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and amid talk of potential U.S. tariffs against China.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 lost 190.81 points, or 0.9%, to 21,727.29

Some defense-related stocks also gained ground despite broader losses on the index, with Ishikawa Seisaku, a manufacturer of defense equipment, surging 7%

The Hang Seng Index dumped 166.84 points, or 0.5%, to 31,435.01

Meanwhile, data released on Wednesday showed Japan core machinery orders, a volatile metric, for January rose 8.2% on month and 2.9% on year, beating forecasts. The Topix machinery index was down 0.8%, with Komatsu lower by 1.5%

In corporate news, embattled commodities firm Noble Group on Wednesday announced it had secured a binding restructuring support agreement with creditors representing 46% of its debt. Shares of the company were up 6.5%

The U.S. dollar eased against the yen to trade at 106.53 after trading as high as 106.74 earlier in the session.

While Bank of Japan policymakers thought it was appropriate for the central bank to "persistently pursue powerful monetary easing," some members said it was important to monitor side effects of current policy, according to minutes of the BOJ's January meeting.

In Korea, automakers carved out gains that were offset by losses in other sectors, including downbeat manufacturing plays. Technology names traded mixed, with Samsung SDI gaining 2.2%.

Australian markets tailed off, with moderate gains in mining majors Rio Tinto and BHP unable to lift the broader index. Sector-wise, losses were broad-based, with all sectors except gold producers in the red. Financials, which make up the most heavily weighted sector on the index, declined 0.8% by the end of the day.

The Australian dollar traded at $0.7876 U.S., firming from levels around the $0.786 handle after the release of strong China data.

CHINA

The CSI 300 dropped 17.91 points, or 0.4%, to 4,073.34

Mainland markets came under pressure despite the release of stronger-than-expected data, which saw industrial output and fixed asset investment topping forecasts.

Overnight news that the Trump administration was looking into a tough trade package against China likely weighed on markets. The package could include indefinite tariffs and investment restrictions. Trump could impose tariffs on $60 billion U.S. of Chinese goods.

In other markets

In Taiwan, the Taiex retreated 56.83 points, or 0.5%, to 11,038.80

In Korea, the Kospi faltered 8.41 points, or 0.3%, to 2,486.08

In Singapore, the Straits Times Index let go of 14.32 points, or 0.4%, to 3,539.41

In New Zealand, the NZX 50 slumped 40.51 points, or 0.5%, to 8,432.63

The ASX 200 dropped 39.4 points, or 0.7%, to 5,935.31