Asian markets retreat as investors await Fed chairman’s speech

Associated Press

Stocks slip in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai

Pedestrians walk past a bank’s electronic board showing the Hong Kong index’s performance Wednesday.

Associated Press

Asian shares were mostly lower Wednesday after a lackluster session on Wall Street following talks between the United States and China on the status of a deal meant to work as truce in their trade war.

The market has meandered recently on snippets of news about the coronavirus, developments on a potential vaccine for it and other concerns. But the global economy is still hurting overall, with airlines running at a fraction of their capacities and restaurants still mostly empty.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225

finished flat. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng

slipped 0.2%, while the Shanghai Composite

fell 1.2%. South Korea’s Kospi

rose 0.1%, while benchmark indexes in Taiwan

, Singapore

and Indonesia

were mixed. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200

lost 0.7%.

Markets are getting “a mixed bag” of signals, such as relatively positive U.S. home sales but a disappointing read on consumer confidence, as fears of more waves of COVID-19 infections persist, said Hayaki Narita, of the Asia & Oceania Treasury Department at Mizuho Bank.

“Depending on your point of view, data and developments may be encouraging or gloomy,” he said.

Stocks were mixed on Wall Street Tuesday, but gains were strong enough for tech companies and other pockets of the market to carry the S&P 500

to its fourth straight gain and another record high.

The benchmark index rose 0.4% to 3,443.62, even though slightly more stocks within it sank than rose. The Dow Jones Industrial Average

fell 0.2%,to 28,248.44, and the Nasdaq composite

rose 0.8% to 11,466.47.

A report showed consumer confidence unexpectedly dropped this month, contrary to economists’ forecast for an improvement. But another report said sales of new homes accelerated faster than economists expected last month.

On the trade front, the U.S. Trade Representative said that “both sides see progress” following talks between the world’s two largest economies. China’s Ministry of Commerce said the two sides discussed strengthening coordination of their economic policies, though it gave no details.

Tensions between the United States and China have escalated recently, with President Donald Trump targeting Chinese technology companies in particular. The worsening relationship has been one of the bigger concerns for investors, as well as Asian regional economies.

Market players are also watching for the Fed’s chair Jerome Powell’s highly anticipated speech later this week, where investors expect to hear him talk about next steps for monetary policy. The central bank has slashed short-term rates to nearly zero and is buying all kinds of bonds, which helps drive some investors into the stock market and push up its prices.

Benchmark U.S. crude

slipped 4 cents to $43.31 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 73 cents to $43.35 per barrel Tuesday. Brent crude

, the international standard, gained 8 cents to $45.94 a barrel.

The dollar

inched up to 106.45 Japanese yen from 106.38 yen on Tuesday.

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