Asian shares flat as weak oil prices weigh on investors

By KELVIN CHANEnergyAssociated Press

Asian shares are ending the week on a subdued note with most indexes little changed Friday as the price of oil halted its decline, while still hovering near its lowest level in almost a year.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index edged less than 0.1 percent lower to 20,106.85 and South Korea's Kospi was unchanged at 2,370.56. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.3 percent to 25,739.93 but the Shanghai Composite in mainland China lost 0.2 percent to 3,142.14. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.1 percent to 5,703.00.

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ENERGY SLUMP: Crude oil's extended decline this week and the effect it is having on broader financial markets has been weighing on investor sentiment and dragged down energy shares. Crude prices rose on Thursday for the first time in four days but prices are still near their lowest level since August. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 10 cents to $42.84 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 21 cents to settle at $42.74 per barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, the international standard, added 10 cents to $45.32 per barrel.

QUOTEWORTHY: "Falling oil prices continue to temper sentiment in global macro markets," said Stephen Innes, senior trader at OANDA. "While the Nervous Nellies take solace as oil prices based overnight, don't get too comfortable as the oil patch narrative will likely be the primary catalyst in the coming months."

MEDICAL SHARES: U.S. health care stocks rallied after the Senate unveiled its proposal to revamp how Americans get medical care. Investors were betting that overseas companies could also benefit from the bill, with Australian bionic ear maker Cochlear up 0.4 percent and blood plasma maker CSL up 0.9 percent.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks were little changed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged down less than 0.1 percent to close at 2,434.50. The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 0.1 percent to 21,397.29, and the Nasdaq composite index rose less than 0.1 percent to 6,236.69.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 111.34 yen from 111.32 yen in late trading Thursday. The euro rose to $1.1156 from $1.1154.