Asia Stocks Advance as Britain’s EU Referendum Gets Under Way

  • Asia Pacific benchmark index heads for two-week high
  • Japan’s Topix index climbs in light trading as yen weakens

Asian stocks edged higher on low trading volume as investors brace for the outcome of Britain’s referendum on European Union membership.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index climbed 0.8 percent to 130.55 as of 4:05 p.m. in Hong Kong, led by gains in Japanese equities, while stock gauges in Indonesia, Shanghai and Taiwan declined. With voting already under way in the U.K., past opinion polls showed the referendum was too close to call. Volumes Thursday were below average in Japan, India and Australia.

“We are staring at something very close indeed,” said Chris Weston, Melbourne-based chief market strategist at IG Ltd.

Investors around the world are watching closely for the referendum result as governments and central banks warned that a vote for so-called Brexit could weigh on global economic growth and roil financial markets. As voting booths shut at 10 p.m. London time, many traders and investors across Asia will be in for an early start on Friday.

“Anybody who is predicting this with a high degree of certainty is delusional,” Bill Fitzpatrick, portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management, which oversees $325 billion, told Bloomberg Radio. “There’s plenty of room for risk assets to move higher, but I would wait.”

At stake is the U.K.’s relationship with its European neighbors and allies that together make up the world’s largest trading bloc, comprising half a billion people. Once voting ends in the U.K., politicians, investors and the public will face an anxious couple of hours before the first results.

Wherever you are in the world, here’s a timeline of what to expect, and when; click here.

Japan’s Topix index rose 1.1 percent, with turnover dropping to its second-lowest level this year, while the yen weakened 0.1 percent to 104.47 per dollar. The Topix is down 16 percent already in 2016, the second-largest decline among 24 developed equity markets tracked by Bloomberg.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index added 0.4 percent and the Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.5 percent. South Korea’s Kospi index declined 0.3 percent, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.2 percent and New Zealand’s S&P/NZX 50 Index rose 0.6 percent. Singapore’s Straits Times Index added 0.4 percent.

Vietnamese shares climbed 0.9 percent, while stocks in Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines dropped at least 0.3 percent.

Futures on the S&P 500 Index advanced 0.5 percent. The underlying gauge lost 0.2 percent on Wednesday.

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