Asian stocks lackluster as investors turn focus to Yellen

HONG KONG (AP) — Most Asian stock benchmarks drifted lower Friday as investors hunkered down to mull resurgent oil prices and corporate earnings while awaiting a key speech by the Fed chief next week.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index edged 0.1 percent lower to 16,474.67 while South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.1 percent to 2,053.58. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.5 percent to 22,903.57 and the Shanghai Composite Index retreated 0.5 percent to 3,086.77. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 5,518.30. Benchmarks in Taiwan and Thailand fell while in those in Singapore, Indonesia and New Zealand rose.

GLOBAL OUTLOOK: Markets were mostly subdued in the absence of any major economic data releases. Investors were watching for the Fed’s next move after meeting minutes this week indicated policymakers felt another interest rates hike was warranted but left out any hint on timing. The next big chance to glean insight from U.S. central bank officials comes in a week’s time, with Fed chief Janet Yellen due to speak at an annual gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Aug. 26.

QUOTEWORTHY: Yellen is likely to say the process of raising rates will be “cautious and gradual but leave the impression that the Fed is on track to raise interest rates again this year,” Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital in Sydney, wrote in a report.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended slightly higher. The Dow Jones industrial average ticked up 0.1 percent to 18,597.70. The Standard & Poor’s 500 added 0.2 percent to 2,187.02. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.2 percent to 5,240.15.

ENERGY: Oil futures steadied after a big bounce. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 8 cents to $48.30 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.43, or 3.1 percent, to settle at $48.22 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slipped 3 cents to $50.92 a barrel in London after jumping 2 percent the day before.

CURRENCIES: The yen stabilized, with the dollar strengthening to 100.31 yen after the Japanese currency broke below the 100-yen mark earlier. Japan’s currency has been gradually strengthening since the start of the year, when it was worth about 120, making the country’s exports more expensive and complicating efforts to revive growth. The euro slipped to $1.1330 from $1.1345.

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