BEIJING – Asian stocks declined Wednesday ahead of a meeting of U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers as markets in Japan and Hong Kong closed for a holiday.
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KEEPING SCORE: Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 fell 1 percent to 5,892.30 points and the Shanghai Composite Index declined 0.25 percent to 3,135.72. India's Sensex lost 0.1 percent to 29,902.35 and benchmarks in New Zealand and Jakarta also retreated. Taiwan and Singapore gained. South Korean markets also were closed for a holiday.
WALL STREET: U.S. stocks gained but shrinking auto sales offset strong results from industrial companies. Engine maker Cummins sent manufacturers and other industrial companies higher after reporting solid first-quarter earnings. Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler fell after they reported their April sales declined. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.1 percent to 2,391.17. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.2 percent to 20,949.89. The Nasdaq composite set another record as it picked up 0.1 percent to 6,095.37.
FED WATCH: Investors looked ahead to a meeting of policymakers of the U.S. Federal Reserve to discuss interest-rate policy. Many investors expect the Fed to freeze the benchmark interest rate this month but are looking to a post-meeting statement for signs of when the next increase might come. The CME Group's FedWatch tool says futures markets indicate a 66 percent chance of a hike in June.
ANALYST'S TAKE: "Certainly, the poor vehicle sales print can be added to a growing list of below par U.S. data points of late and that will almost certainly be a theme the Federal Reserve will explore," said Chris Weston of IG in a report. "Keep in mind the interest rate markets are pricing a 60 percent chance of a hike from the Fed in June, so this probability will move depending on the tone of the statement."
AUTO SLOWDOWN: U.S. auto sales fell 4.7 percent last month, the most pronounced slowdown of the year and a strong indication that 2017 will end seven straight years of growth. Auto executives and analysts, who have been anticipating a slowdown, saw no cause for panic. Many expect sales in the important economic sector to top 17 million for the third straight year, an industry first. Sales have dropped for four straight months, the first time that's happened since the economy ground to a halt in 2009. April sales totaled just over 1.4 million, which translates to an annual sales rate of 16.9 million, far below last year's record of 17.5 million. The April decline brought year-to-date sales down by 2.4 percent from a year ago.
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CURRENCY: The dollar edged up to 112.03 yen from Tuesday's 111.99 yen. The euro gained to $1.0932 from $1.0929.
ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude gained 37 cents to $48.03 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract plunged $1.18 on Tuesday to close at $47.66. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 42 cents to $50.88 in London. It lost $1.06 the previous session to $50.46.