Asian markets mostly higher as Jackson Hole in focus

By YOUKYUNG LEE Markets Associated Press

Asian stock markets were mostly higher on Thursday as investors brushed off worries about the U.S. political uncertainty while waiting for the upcoming speeches by the world's top central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 slipped 0.1 percent to 19,408.80 but South Korea's Kospi rose 0.4 percent to 2,375.74. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index advanced 0.5 percent to 27,538.84 and Shanghai Composite Index was flat at 3,288.24. Australia's S&P ASX 200 added 0.3 percent to 5,751.80.

FED WATCH: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and other central bankers will assess the global economy at this week's annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yellen and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi are due to speak on Friday. Analysts foresee no major policy changes but a surprise announcement cannot be ruled out. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates and is preparing to pare back the $4.5 trillion it holds on its balance sheet.

US POLITICS WATCH: In a speech late Tuesday, President Donald Trump said that "if we have to close down our government, we're building that wall" that he wants on the border between Mexico and the United States. He also said that he thinks the U.S. government will "end up probably terminating" the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, though he also said that he has yet to make up his mind. The latest remarks by the president came as the concern is growing whether the government can push through pro-business policies.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "President Trump's threat to shut down the U.S. government unless Congress agrees to fund the building of a wall on the Mexican border rattled investor nerves overnight," said Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets. "An absence of macro data and calm currency markets indicate company profit results will once again dominate trading."

WALL STREET: U.S. stock markets finished lower on Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.3 percent to 2,444.04. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.4 percent to 21,812.09 and the Nasdaq composite lost 0.3 percent to 6,278.41. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks fell 0.1 percent to 1,369.74.

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OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 6 cents to $48.35 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 58 cents to settle at $48.41 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 2 cents to 52.55 per barrel in London. On Wednesday, it rose 70 cents to $52.57 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 109.22 Japanese yen from 109.04 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1801 from $1.1810.