Asian shares slip ahead of US Fed chief's speech

Asian shares slipped Wednesday despite a positive lead from Wall Street, where stocks picked up on encouraging US economic data ahead of a keynote speech this week by the Federal Reserve chief. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Asian shares slipped Wednesday despite a positive lead from Wall Street, where stocks picked up on encouraging US economic data ahead of a keynote speech this week by the Federal Reserve chief. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) - Asian shares slipped Wednesday despite a positive lead from Wall Street, where stocks picked up on encouraging US economic data ahead of a keynote speech this week by the Federal Reserve chief.

Shanghai lost 0.25 per cent, Seoul fell 0.17 per cent and Sydney was down 0.12 per cent while Hong Kong traded flat.

Tokyo also edged down after data showed Japan's trade deficit for July narrowed 6.6 percent from a year earlier, with exports picking up on rising demand for cars and machinery.

But the shortfall was still worse than market expectations and analysts said domestic consumption - rather than export demand - was likely to be the key economic driver in the second half of the year.

The slide in Asian markets came despite positive cues from Wall Street, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average finished up 0.48 per cent at 16,919.59 on Tuesday following encouraging US housing data.

Fresh data showed a pickup in US housing starts after two slower months, an encouraging sign for the construction sector, and also tepid inflation, with consumer prices rising just 0.1 per cent in July despite strong gains in food costs.

Traders were looking ahead to a speech on Friday by Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen for any hint of a change to the US central bank's interest rate plans.

Last month, Yellen said that the Fed would hold its near-zero interest rate policy until the US economy strengthened, but may raise rates if the jobs market continues to improve.

Traders said tame US inflation had left the door open for the Fed to keep rates low.

In forex markets, the dollar was trading at 102.97 yen in early Asian trade, up from 102.91 yen in New York late Tuesday and 102.62 yen in Tokyo earlier Tuesday.

The euro bought US$1.3318 and 137.14 yen against US$1.3321 and 137.07 yen in US trade.

On oil markets, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for September delivery rose 37 cents to US$94.85 while Brent crude for October eased two cents to US$101.54.

Gold traded at US$1,296.24 an ounce at 0240 GMT compared to US$1,300.30 an ounce late Tuesday.