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Asia stocks steady as investors assess economic data in search of direction

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Asian stocks mostly held steady Wednesday as investors mulled a conflicting batch of economic data from the U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest economies.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index slipped 0.2 per cent to 19,676.02 while South Korea’s Kospi lost less than 0.1 per cent to 2,040.32. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng climbed 0.2 per cent to 24,460.66 while the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China lost 0.6 per cent to 3,669.70. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.1 per cent to 5,974.80. Southeast Asian indexes edged lower.

INVESTOR INDECISION: Markets were mostly in a holding pattern as recent economic data left investors searching for clear direction. U.S. government data showed that in February consumer prices rose in for the first time in four months while new home sales climbed to their fastest pace in seven years. That was a good sign for the world’s No. 1 economy that nonetheless also raises concerns the Fed could soon raise interest rates. The reports came after a survey showed Chinese manufacturing activity slumped to the lowest in 11-months, signalling further weakness in the second biggest economy.

MARKET VIEW: “It remains to be seen whether we are going through a period of equilibrium — where bulls and bears even each other out — or simply a period where traders are happy to ride out the end of a good quarter by staying on the sidelines,” Nicholas Teo of CMC Markets in Singapore wrote in a commentary.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks ended slightly lower Tuesday as latest report on consumer prices and signs of possible renewed strength in the dollar left investors indecisive. The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 0.6 per cent to 2,091.50 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.6 per cent to 18,011.14. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.3 per cent to 4,994.73.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose one cent to $47.52 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 6 cents to close at $47.51 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, gained 8 cents to $55.19 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 119.69 yen from 119.75 in the previous session. The euro strengthened to $1.0928 from $1.0914.