BEIJING – Asian shares were mostly moderately higher in listless trading Wednesday, as investors watched for news out of a Federal Reserve meeting.
Japan's Nikkei 225 added 0.4% to 29,104.51 in morning trading, while South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.8% to 3,189.72. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.5% to 7,066.70. Hong Kong's Hang Seng edged up 0.2% to 29,005.46 while the Shanghai Composite rose 0.2% to 3,448.25.
Analysts said Asian investors have adopted a wait-and-see stance ahead of the Fed meeting.
“But the wider point and the bigger driver of markets, as equities shuffled nervously ahead of the FOMC meeting today, is arguably just how much restraint the Fed will exercise,” said Venkateswaran Lavanya at Mizuho Bank.
Also on tap is President Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress, which is expected to lay out several parts of his agenda such as increased infrastructure spending, likely higher taxes on the wealthy and higher funding for government programs.
The slow pace of coronavirus vaccinations in some parts of Asia, including Japan, and a surge of cases in India are adding to continued worries about the pandemic, in contrast with progress in the U.S. and parts of Europe where cases are starting to fall.
Japan has declared a state of emergency in some urban areas, trying to curb travel, crowds and the spread of infections, as the nation heads to a series of national holidays called Golden Week.
On Wall Street, indexes closed out a wobbly day of trading, leaving the S&P 500 index just below its all-time high. The benchmark index slipped less than 0.1% to 4,186.72. The index was coming off its latest all-time high. The Dow barely recovered from an early slide, adding less than 0.1% to 33,984.93. The Nasdaq fell 0.3% to 14,090.22. The tech-heavy index also set a record high on Monday.
Smaller companies fared better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index inched up 0.1%, to 2,301.27.
Losses in technology, health care, communication services and other sectors in the index outweighed gains in banks, industrial stocks and energy companies.
The market's choppy turn came as investors pored over a mixed batch of company quarterly report cards in what is the busiest week for earnings so far this season. UPS, Hasbro and Archer-Daniels-Midland were among the winners after delivering results that impressed traders. Among the losers: Tesla, Eli Lilly and General Electric.
Investors expect U.S. corporate results due out this week to show stronger profits as coronavirus vaccines are rolled out and as consumer spending strengthens.
“What’s more of a focus is really the guidance they’re giving, looking further into 2021 and beyond,” said Greg Bassuk, chairman and CEO of AXS Investments. “A lot of companies are trying to figure ultimately when the COVID-19 cloud is really going to lift.”
Global investors are gauging how companies fared during the first quarter and any other information that can help paint a clearer picture of where the economy is headed. UPS vaulted 10.4% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after reporting another surge in delivery volumes as well as profits that came in well ahead of what investors were expecting.
Tesla, whose stock has been soaring over the past year, fell 4.5% despite reporting stronger sales of electric vehicles.
General Electric fell 0.6% after the troubled industrial giant reported a double-digit drop in revenue and a quarter loss, as the company continues to struggle in its turnaround plan. GE's stock has been volatile this year, soaring as much as 80%.
Microsoft fell 3.1% in after-hours trading following the release of its quarterly results.
Beyond earnings, investors are watching the latest economic reports for more clues about the pace and scale of the economic recovery. Consumer confidence rose sharply for a second straight month in April, hitting the highest level since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, U.S. home prices rose in February at the fastest pace in nearly seven years as strong demand for housing collided with a tight supply of homes on the market.
The Federal Reserve started a two-day policy meeting Tuesday. Investors expect the U.S. central bank to keep its key lending rate close to zero and inject more money into the financial system through bond purchases.
In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude fell 16 cents to $62.78 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 17 cents to $66.25 a barrel.
In currencies, the U.S. dollar gained to 108.84 Japanese yen from 108.36 yen. The euro cost $1.2082, up from $1.2062.
AP Business Writers Damian J. Troise and Alex Veiga contributed.