Asian stocks directionless, dollar steadies after slide

Trader Michael Milano works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Stocks are opening slightly lower on Wall Street, led by declines in banks and health care companies. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Trader Gregory Rowe, center, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Stocks are opening slightly lower on Wall Street, led by declines in banks and health care companies. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Specialist Charles Boeddinghaus, center works at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Stocks are opening slightly lower on Wall Street, led by declines in banks and health care companies. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Traders Christopher Fuchs, left, and Sal Suarino work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Stocks are opening slightly lower on Wall Street, led by declines in banks and health care companies. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Richard Newman, center, works with fellow traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. Stocks are opening slightly lower on Wall Street, led by declines in banks and health care companies. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

HONG KONG — Most Asian stock indexes lacked direction Wednesday following a sharp correction overnight in the dollar that sapped investor momentum.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index shed 0.2 percent to 18,776.45 and South Korea's Kospi was nearly flat at 2,071.40. Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 1.2 percent to 23,111.29 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China edged up 0.2 percent to 3,115.24. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.6 percent to 5,662.90. Benchmarks in Southeast Asia were mixed.

DOLLAR'S DIVE: The dollar was levelling off in Asian trading after slumping overnight against most of its peers, including the yen, euro and pound. One factor behind the currency fluctuations was British Prime Minister Theresa May's speech about Britain's pending departure from the European Union, which soothed investors following months of uncertainty about the plan for an exit following the June vote. Comments by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump about the dollar being "too strong," making the U.S uncompetitive in its trading relationship with China, also added downward pressure on the greenback. Trump's comments were published in the Wall Street Journal Monday but didn't have a big impact until U.S. investors returned to work Tuesday after a long weekend.

QUOTEWORTHY: Initial investor optimism over Trump's promises to bring in business-friendly policies has been waning as reality sets in, suggested Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore. "The market has been anticipating better clarity into the economic plans of the new administration for months and weeks, expected to come as President-elect Donald Trump steps into office," said Pan. "Last Wednesday's press conference and the latest set of comments from ... Trump have probably been a preview for more volatility instead as the market stands ready to adjust expectations."

HONG KONG HIGHER: Stocks in the Chinese financial hub surged as investors awaited the final policy address from the city's outgoing leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Markets were also buoyant because shares were poised to benefit from the dollar's weakness via the city's currency peg to the dollar, which makes investing more attractive for those using other currencies.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended lower. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3 percent to 19,826.77. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.3 percent to 2,267.89. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.6 percent to 5,538.73.

CURRENCY TRADING: The British pound, which rose 1.3 percent against the dollar after May's speech, slipped to $1.2337 from $1.2393. The dollar strengthened to 113.03 yen from 112.79 yen in late trading Tuesday, but is down 1.4 percent for the week so far against the Japanese currency. The euro slipped to $1.0695 from $1.070.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 16 cents to $52.64 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 11 cents, or 0.2 percent, to settle at $52.48 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, climbed 23 cents to $55.70.

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