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Asian shares close mixed as US yields edge higher; trade talks in focus

Cheang Ming

Asian stocks closed narrowly mixed on Thursday as the yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury stayed above 3 percent. Investors also kept an eye on the second round of U.S.-China trade talks.

The Nikkei 225 rose 0.53 percent, or 121.14 points, to close at 22,838.37 in Tokyo, shrugging off weak core machinery orders — a leading indicator for capital expenditure — for the month of March. The broader Topix was higher by 0.45 percent, with its oil and insurance subindexes among the best-performing sectors.

Over in Seoul, the Kospi finished the day down 0.46 percent at 2,448.45. Technology shares were mixed, with index heavyweight Samsung Electronics easing 0.9 percent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index shed 0.42 percent by 3:10 p.m. HK/SIN as banks and insurers slipped. Most sectors traded in negative territory before the market close, with property developers also weighing on the index, although the technology sector advanced.

That came after shares of Tencent got a boost after the tech giant reported first-quarter net profit rose 61 percent to 23.9 billion yuan ($3.66 billion), topping an average Thomson Reuters forecast of 17.5 billion yuan. Tencent stock jumped 4.34 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN.

On the mainland, the Shanghai composite edged down by 0.48 percent to 3,154.24 and the Shenzhen composite eased 0.52 percent to end at 1,822.70.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 finished the session lower by 0.21 percent at 6,094.30. The heavily weighted financials subindex declined 0.41 percent, dragging the index lower but paring steeper losses seen earlier. The materials and energy sectors, meanwhile, were among the sectors carving out gains.

MSCI's index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan, which had tracked higher in the morning, slipped 0.23 percent in Asia afternoon trade.

The mostly sideways trade in Asia came after U.S. stocks closed higher on Wednesday, with retail sector stocks climbing following strong results from department store company Macy's. Of note, the small-cap Russell 2000 added 1 percent and finished at a record close.

The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to a fresh near seven-year high on Wednesday, surpassing the 3.1 percent level for the first time since Jul 8, 2011. The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 3.12 percent on Thursday.

Trade was also back in the picture as a second round of U.S.-China talks kicked off, this time taking place in Washington. Trade-related frictions had spooked markets earlier this year, with investors at the time concerned over the impact of tariffs on growth.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that whether his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un goes through remained to be seen . Earlier, North Korea said it would rethink the June 12 summit if the U.S. insisted on denuclearization.

The uncertainty did not appear to have a major impact on markets in the region.

"I think investors are just going to hold on the sidelines and kind of watch this, see how it develops. I expect there to be a lot of this sort of political rhetoric leading into the summit. I don't think it's going to be a big investment thesis for the markets," Jack McIntyre, portfolio manager at Brandywine Global Investment Management, told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Elsewhere, Italy's right-wing Lega party denied reports that it was seeking a 250 billion euro ($296 billion) debt write-off if it becomes part of a power-sharing deal with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement. In reaction, the country's FTSE MIB fell 2.32 percent on Wednesday while Italian bond yields moved higher.

On Thursday, the euro extended losses to trade at $1.1801 at 2:59 p.m. HK/SIN. The common currency fell to a five-month low of $1.1763 in the previous session.

The dollar index , which tracks the U.S. currency against a basket of major currencies, was steady at 93.320 after rising to a five-month high of 93.632 overnight. Gains in the greenback in recent week come amid expectations that the Federal Reserve will be more hawkish than other central banks.

Against the yen, the dollar firmed to trade at 110.46 at 2:56 p.m. HK/SIN.

On the energy front, U.S. crude futures rose 0.27 percent to trade at $71.68 per barrel and Brent crude futures added 0.16 percent to trade at $79.41.

— CNBC's Thomas Franck and Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.