Asia stocks muted; Tokyo edges up on yen slump

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stock markets struggled for direction on Friday after a mixed close on Wall Street. Japan's benchmark edged higher as the yen plumbed a multiyear low and South Korean shares rising after policymakers held a key interest rate steady.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 was 0.2 percent higher at 15,934.03, underpinned by the weakening yen which boosts earnings of exporting companies. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.5 percent to 2,043.96 after the country's central bank kept its policy rate at 2.25 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.4 percent to 24,563.53 and the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China gained 0.3 percent to 2,317.70. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 percent to 5,514.10.

SUBDUED MOOD: Market momentum is fading and investors are struggling to find catalysts to drive stock prices higher, especially as anticipation builds that the Federal Reserve is closer to winding down its economic stimulus and raising interest rates. In the absence of major economic indicators, geopolitical tensions also weighed on investor sentiment after the U.S. announced tighter sanctions on Russia and a wider military campaign against the Islamic State group.

CURRENCIES: The greenback is staying strong ahead of the Federal Reserve's policy meeting next week. Some investors believe the Fed will provide more clues on the timing of possible rate hikes. The dollar was at 107.14 yen, near a six-year high, from 107.06 late Thursday. The euro inched up to $1.2929 from $1.2925.

THE QUOTE: Investors await U.S. retail sales and University of Michigan consumer sentiment data later Friday. "We expect the two figures to come in healthy, slightly boosting market sentiment, but the market will likely remain in wait-and-see mode until the FOMC meeting next week," strategists at Credit Agricole CIB said in a research note.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks spent most of Thursday in the red but ended fairly flat. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 0.1 percent to close at 17,049 while the Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.1 percent to 1,997.45. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.1 percent to 4,591.81.

ENERGY: Crude oil rose 18 cents to $93 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.16 to close at $92.83 on Thursday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, slipped 12 cents to $98.74 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.