Asian stocks meandered Wednesday as investors awaited fresh cues from the Federal Reserve on the outlook for interest rates. Markets were steady following the submarine launch of a ballistic missile by North Korea.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.6 percent to 16,597.30 on rising hopes for more monetary easing from the Bank of Japan (BOJ) and a raft of government stimulus, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.1 percent to 5,561.70. But South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.3 percent to 2,043.76 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 1 percent to 22,760.82. The Shanghai Composite index edged down 0.2 percent at 3,082.62. Markets in Southeast Asia were mixed.
“Traders are stuck in limbo, aware that there is some BOJ uncertainty on how they will deal with a strengthening yen; while the near-term Fed outlook is equally clouded, not the best landscape to look for absolute trends,” reflected Stephen Innes, a senior trader at OANDA.
Investors are awaiting a speech Friday by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen at an annual conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The Fed is expected to hold off on raising interest rates at its September meeting, but Yellen’s comments will be dissected for clues on the likelihood and timing of a future hike.
Rattling nerves in northeast Asia, North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine early Wednesday. The missile traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles) in what Seoul officials said was the longest flight yet by that type of North Korean weapon, one that could put much of rival South Korea within range.
U.S. stocks posted modest gains on Tuesday, after a report of a big jump in sales of new homes last month. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent to 18,547.30. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.2 percent to 2,186.90 and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.3 percent to 5,260.08.
Prices rose overnight after Iran signaled it might support other OPEC members in production freezes. But prices fell back Wednesday on news of rising inventories. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 76 cents to $47.33 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 69 cents to $48.10 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price oil internationally, lost 77 cents to $49.18.
The dollar slipped to 100.28 yen while the euro fell to $1.1294 from $1.1304.