Asian shares mostly lower ahead of central bank meetings, worries on Ukraine conflict continue

MarketsAssociated Press

Asian stocks were mostly slightly lower in Thursday morning trading, as markets watched for action of the central banks in the U.S., Japan and Europe and worries about the escalating conflict in Ukraine continued to weigh on shares.

The signs have been conflicting as the Dow managed to barely end in positive territory overnight. There is evidence of a U.S. economic recovery, but players are also considering the prospect the Federal Reserve might raise its benchmark interest rate.

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President Barack Obama has said that U.S. sanctions levied against Russia over its actions in Ukraine are working but that Washington would face a much different set of questions about how to respond if Moscow invaded eastern Ukraine.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 lost 0.2 percent to 15,128.05 in morning trading. South Korea's Kospi dipped 0.4 percent to 2,053.36. The Hang Seng fell 0.4 percent to 24,475.52. Southeast Asian stocks were mixed, with shares up in the Philippines and Indonesia but down in Singapore and Malaysia.

CENTRAL BANKS: The market is closely monitoring the meetings of the central banks of Europe and Japan, although radical policy changes are not expected. The Bank of Japan starts a two-day policy meeting ending Friday, and its recent policies have kept stock prices relatively high and the Japanese yen low — both a plus for the Japanese economy.

ANALYSTS TAKE: With global stock market moves relatively subdued, players have their eyes on possible upcoming currency fluctuations. "The focus will be on European currencies later this evening. Both the Bank of England and European Central bank are likely to keep monetary policies unchanged when they hold their respective meetings tonight," said Desmond Chua, market analyst at CMC Markets Singapore Pte. in Singapore.

WALL STREET: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose a fraction of a point, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,920.24. The index is still up on the year, but has dropped 3.5 percent from its record close set July 24. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent to 16,443.34. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.1 percent to 4,355.05.

EYES ON OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude for September delivery was up 17 cents to $97.09 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

CURRENCIES: The dollar was trading at 102.11 yen down from 102.39 yen. The euro was at $1.3389 from $1.3364.