Asian stocks change little ahead of more US-China talks

A Chinese man monitors stock prices at a brokerage in Beijing, China, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Asian stock markets were little-changed Thursday following a listless day on Wall Street ahead of U.S.-Chinese negotiations aimed at ending a tariff battle. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Asian stock markets are little-changed after a listless day on Wall Street as investors looked ahead to U.S.-Chinese negotiations on a tariff war

BEIJING — Asian stock markets were little-changed Thursday following a listless day on Wall Street ahead of U.S.-Chinese negotiations aimed at ending a tariff battle.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index lost 0.1 percent to 21,402.69 after a gauge of manufacturing activity fell to a three-year low, suggesting Japanese economic growth is slowing. The Shanghai Composite Index was unchanged at 2,762.67.

Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 added 0.4 percent to 6,120.50 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 9 points to 28,526.95. Seoul's Kospi was unchanged at 2,230.15. Benchmarks in New Zealand and Taiwan advanced while Southeast Asian markets mostly declined.

Investors looked ahead to talks in Washington on a fight over Beijing's technology ambitions ahead of a March 2 deadline for a possible U.S. tariff hike. Neither government has released details but companies saw the decision to hold more talks as a sign of progress after a U.S. envoy said a meeting in Beijing last week "made headway."

President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday the talks were "going very well." Trump has suggested he might postpone the tariff hike on $200 billion of goods but made no firm commitment.

The U.S. Federal Reserve reassured investors by releasing minutes of its latest meeting saying, as expected, it will be patient with interest rate hikes amid economic uncertainty.

Lack of details in the Fed's report "leaves the region to await further US-China developments," said Jingyi Pan of IG in a report. After markets rose on Trump's positive comments, she said, "one should not be surprised" to see more gains.

The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 0.2 percent to 2,784.70. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.2 percent to 25,954.44. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.03 percent to 7,489.07.

Germany's DAX, the FTSE 100 in London and France's CAC 40 all gained 0.3 percent.

JAPANESE MANUFACTURING: The preliminary reading on a monthly purchasing managers' index fell to 48.5 on a 100-point scale from January's 50.3. It was the second unusually large monthly decline and the PMI's lowest level since October 2016. "Such large falls are rare and suggest that the economy is losing momentum rapidly," said Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics in a report.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 8 cents to $57.24 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 71 cents on Wednesday to $57.16. Brent crude, used to price international oils, advanced 2 cents to $67.10 per barrel in London. It gained 63 cents the previous session to $67.08.

CURRENCIES: The dollar edged down to 110.82 yen from Wednesday's 110.85 yen. The euro gained to $1.1341 from $1.1336.

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