Asian markets mostly weaker before Fed chair speech

By YOUKYUNG LEE Markets Associated Press

Asian shares were mixed on Wednesday as investors eyed U.S. political risks and cues about the direction of monetary policy from the Federal Reserve chair.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 0.6 percent to 20,073.67 and South Korea's Kospi lost 0.2 percent to 2,392.56. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index surged 0.8 percent to 26,089.42, while China's Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.2 percent to 3,196.56. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.8 percent to 5,685.40. Stocks in Southeast Asia were mixed.

FED WATCH: Investors were refraining from making big moves ahead of Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen's testimony before the U.S. Congress on Wednesday and Thursday. Traders are watching for cues on the outlook for U.S. monetary policy and the Fed's plans to cut its balance sheet. The Fed is also scheduled to release its Beige Book, an economic snapshot used by the central bank to gauge U.S. economic trends.

TRUMP RISK: U.S. President Donald Trump's eldest son revealed Tuesday that he was eager to hear damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government and disclosed emails that marked the clearest sign to date that Trump's campaign was willing to consider election help from a longtime U.S. adversary. Democrats in Congress voiced outrage and insisted the messages showed clear collusion, as U.S. intelligence agencies investigate if Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

ANALYST'S VIEW: The soft opening in Tokyo "suggests that Asian markets are being a bit defensive in reaction to release of the Trump emails implying a preparedness to accept information from Russia to achieve electoral advantage," Ric Spooner of CMC Markets said in a commentary. He added, "there are concerns that the U.S. administration is becoming increasingly mired in day-to-day difficulties, limiting the political capital it needs to achieve difficult economic reform and stimulus."

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks finished with little changes on Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.1 percent to 2,425.53. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.55 points to 21,409.07. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.3 percent to 6,193.30. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks added 4.58 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,413.05.

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OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude added 75 cents to $45.79 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Tuesday, the contract rose 64 cents, or 1.4 percent, to settle at $45.04 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 73 cents to $48.25 per barrel in London. On Tuesday, it rose 64 cents, or 1.4 percent, to finish at $47.52 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 113.33 yen from 113.95 yen while the euro strengthened to $1.1478 from $1.1467.