Asian Shares Mixed, Markets Plagued by Uncertainty

Investors look at an electronic screen showing the stock information at a brokerage house in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, January 15, 2016. China stocks dropped more than 3 percent on Friday, capping another tumultuous week in which the Shanghai Composite index tried and failed to stay above lows hit during last year's summer crisis. REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA.
Investors look at an electronic screen showing the stock information at a brokerage house in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. (Reuters/Stringer)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Asian shares meandered Thursday amid uncertainty over the world outlook in general and the Japanese economy in particular, following a decision by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to postpone a sales tax hike to avoid shocks to the country’s faltering recovery.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 2.3 percent to 16,562.55. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index was up 0.1 percent at 20,776.31. The Shanghai Composite Index edged up 0.1 percent to 2,917.74. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.8 percent to 5,278.90, while South Korea’s KOSPI was 0.1 percent higher at 1,985.11. Southeast Asian markets were mostly up.

“Despite appearances of calm in equities, markets continue to be plagued by uncertainty with magnified volatility and divergence in currencies,” Mizuho Bank said in a market commentary. It said the delay in raising Japan’s sales tax may have “induced anxiety over fiscal sustainability and underscored uncertainty in the economy.”

U.S. stocks perked up after a downbeat start to eke out a small gain Wednesday. Consumer companies were among the big gainers as investors sized up mixed data on U.S. manufacturing, housing and auto sales. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 2.47 points, or 0.01 percent, to 17,789.67. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 2.37 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,099.33.

Investors are closely watching for the outcome of a top-level meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on Thursday in Vienna. Analysts say oil ministers from the 13-nation oil cartel are unlikely to reach any agreement on production targets or production caps. After touching a 13-year low early this year, the price of oil has gained nearly 90 percent since January.

U.S. crude shed 16 cents at $48.85 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It closed 9 cents lower to $49.01 on Wednesday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, lost 1 cent at $49.71. On Wednesday, it slid 17 cents to close at $49.72 a barrel.

The dollar fell to 109.26 yen from 109.48 in the previous day’s trading. The euro rose to $1.1196 from $1.1188.