Asian stocks restrained as investors await Yellen remarks, Greek reforms for loan extension

Energy Associated Press

Asian stocks were little changed Tuesday as investors awaited remarks from U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and Greece prepared to unveil reforms that its new government hopes will win it approval for extended rescue loans.

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KEEPING SCORE: The Nikkei 225 index in Japan edged up 0.1 percent to 18,490.02 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.5 percent to 1,977.77. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.5 percent to 24,714.99. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.1 percent to 5,911.20. Markets in mainland China remained closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

CENTRAL BANKS: Investors will be listening for any hints from Yellen on the timing of interest rate hikes from the Fed when she delivers her semiannual report to the U.S. Congress, scheduled for Wednesday. Many economists have predicted the central bank will raise interest rates in June. European Central Bank head Mario Draghi also has a speaking engagement after last month announcing a 1.1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion) stimulus effort.

THE QUOTE: "Traders will examine Draghi's statements for any further ratcheting up of the imminent stimulus program, and Yellen's for any signs that recent soft U.S. data has pushed back the tightening timetable," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney.

GREECE: Officials say the country's left-wing government will deliver a list of reforms Tuesday to debt inspectors for final approval of extended rescue loans. Greece and its bailout creditors reached a tentative agreement last week to extend a rescue loan program by four months to avoid the risk of a Greek default and exit from the euro currency. The reforms, to be sent to Brussels and reviewed by the 19 eurozone finance ministers, are expected to include tax evasion curbs, corruption, smuggling and excessive bureaucracy as well as poverty caused by a six-year recession.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks ended mostly lower on disappointing home sales data, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing down 23.60 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,116.84. The S&P 500 fell 0.64 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,109.66 while the Nasdaq gained 5.01 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,960.97.

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ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 4 cents a barrel to $49.49 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.36 to close at $49.45 a barrel on Monday. Brent crude, used to price oil sold on international markets, added 22 cents to $59.12 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 119.09 yen from 118.93 in late trading Monday. The euro slipped to $1.1326 from $1.1336.