Asian stocks drift before Fed speeches; oil slump weighs

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stocks struggled for direction on Thursday as weak oil prices, mixed Chinese economic data and the rising prospect of a Fed rate hike dulled investor interest.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index edged up 0.1 percent to 19,701.69 while South Korea's Kospi lost 0.2 percent to 1,992.62. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 1.2 percent to 22,606.77 while the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China sank 0.7 percent to 3,623.80. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose less than 0.1 percent to 5,125.70. Benchmarks in southeast Asia were mixed.

CENTRAL BANKERS: Trading was subdued ahead of remarks later Thursday from top officials at the Fed, as expectations grow that the U.S. central bank will raise interest rates from their ultra-low levels at its December meeting. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to deliver opening remarks at a conference on monetary policy implementation. Vice Chair Stanley Fischer is to speak at the same conference.

DATA DUMP: Investors were digesting the latest round of economic data from across Asia. In Australia the jobless rate fell to 5.9 percent in October, a bigger than expected decline and the lowest level since May. In Japan machinery orders, which are seen as a measure of business investment, recorded their first gain in four months, according to Kyodo News. That follows a mixed batch of Chinese data released the day before that showed retail sales growth edged up in October while factory output and investment weakened, which may reduce the pressure on Beijing to take further action to stimulate the world's No. 2 economy.

QUOTEWORTHY: "The recent macroeconomic data were mixed, with retail sales slightly above the consensus view while the industrial production was slightly disappointing. Those data, while not great, arguably do not justify further stimulus and the market is starting to price that in," said Gerry Alfonso, director of trading at Shenwan Hongyuan Securities in Beijing. He added that while Chinese stocks are showing signs of short term weakness, "there remains confidence in the long term prospects so the corrections are not too big."

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended lower, with the Dow Jones industrial average losing 0.3 percent to close at 17,702.22 while the Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.3 percent to 2,075. The Nasdaq composite gave up 0.3 percent to 5,067.02.

ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude futures recovered from a big drop, rising 22 cents to $43.15 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slid $1.28, or 3 percent, to settle at $42.93 a barrel on Wednesday after the American Petroleum Institute reported a big supply buildup, with supplies growing by 6.3 million barrels, far more than analysts expected. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, rose 31 cents to $46.92 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar edged up to 122.87 yen from 122.84 yen in the previous day's trading. The euro slipped to $1.0759 from $1.0764.