Asian stock markets snap 2 days of losses but growth worries temper gains

MarketsAssociated Press

Asian stock markets snapped two days of declines Wednesday but gains were tempered by worries about the plunge in oil prices and renewed doubts about Greece's membership of the euro currency bloc.

Continue Reading Below

KEEPING SCORE: Tokyo's Nikkei 225 gained 0.3 percent to 16,925.72 and Seoul's Kospi edged up 0.1 percent to 1,885.06. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.6 percent to 23,617.77. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.2 percent to 3,344.52 and Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.2 percent to 5,353.60. Stocks in Taipei, New Zealand and Southeast Asia rose. Investors continued to flock to safe haven bonds. The yield of the 10-year Japanese government bond dropped to 0.29 percent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "Asia has seen a continuation of the themes we've been experiencing all week, with oil price uncertainty at the forefront of investor concerns," said IG strategist Stan Shamu in a report. "As far as equities are concerned, it has been a lackluster start to the year and perhaps this is the pullback that markets needed."

OIL SLUMP: Oil fell again, nearing a six-year low. The benchmark U.S. futures contract was down 29 cents at $47.65 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract tumbled $2.11 to close at $47.93 on Tuesday. It has dropped 47 percent in the past three months as demand weakened and supplies stayed high. Lower energy costs should be positive for economic growth but there is also concern the deep plunge is a sign of weakness in the world economy. Brent crude was down 57 cents at $50.53 on the ICE exchange in London.

EURO JITTERS: The possibility that Greece's anti-austerity Syriza party might win national elections this month has fed doubts about whether the country will stick to terms of its bailout and remain in the euro bloc. Meanwhile, a new survey showed that economic growth in the eurozone was weak at the end of 2014, suggesting a robust recovery is still a dim prospect. The news helped keep pressure on the euro, which was little changed at $1.1878, near a nine-year low.

FED WATCH: The Federal Reserve releases minutes from its December interest-rate meeting later in the day. After last month's meeting, the Fed said it will be "patient" in deciding when to raise interest rates. The Fed is expected to this year raise interest rates for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks extended losses on Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 closed 0.9 percent lower at 2,002.61 and the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 0.7 percent to 17,371.64. The Nasdaq composite dropped 1.3 percent to 4,592.74.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 118.86 yen from 118.71 yen late Tuesday.