BANGKOK – Asian stocks were mixed on Wednesday after a lackluster session on Wall Street.
Benchmarks logged moderate gains in Hong Kong and Tokyo, but were flat in Sydney and Shanghai. Australian shares declined.
Markets have meandered since last week as investors weighed solid corporate earnings results against renewed worries that troubles with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and the spread of new variants of coronavirus might delay a recovery from the pandemic.
Traders are also awaiting the outcome of a Federal Reserve policy meeting which wraps up later in the day.
For now, “ranging is a summation of the state of play in the financial markets at the moment," Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a commentary.
The reality that President Joe Biden's $1.9 billion stimulus package won't be “rubber stamped" by the U.S. Senate has made investors pull back on risk, he said.
Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index added 0.3% to 28,638.54, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong also gained 0.3% to 29,485.60. The Kospi in South Korea was flat, at 3,141.58, as was the Shanghai Composite index, at 3,568.40. In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.8%.
Overnight, the S&P 500 lost 0.1% to 3,849.62 but was within 0.2% of the record high it set Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.1%, to 30,937.04. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite also slid 0.1%, to 13,626.06. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 0.6%, to 2,149.86.
This is the busiest week so far of quarterly earnings reporting season for U.S. companies.
More than 100 companies in the S&P 500 are scheduled to tell investors this week how they fared during the last three months of 2020. As a whole, analysts expect S&P 500 companies to say their fourth-quarter profit fell 5% from a year earlier. That’s a milder drop than the 9.4% they were forecasting earlier this month, according to FactSet.
General Electric climbed 2.7% after the industrial conglomerate reported a surge in cash flow. GE is attempting a turnaround after shedding unprofitable divisions and focusing more on big industrial products like jet engines and power equipment. Typically, when a company is in turnaround, investors care more about cash flow than quarterly profits because it shows the company is able to pay down debts.
Johnson & Johnson rose 2.7% after the company reported fourth-quarter results that cruised past Wall Street's expectations. A big jump in prescription drug sales boosted the company's revenue, but profits dove 57% due to higher research spending and one-time charges totaling $2.4 billion. The company also said it expects to share results from the late-stage study of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, which requires only one dose, by early next week.
Traders are keeping a wary eye on rising coronavirus infections in various countries and a bumpy rollout of vaccinations in the U.S. The spread of variants that are thought to be more easily transmissible and might be less effectively targeted by existing vaccines is adding to alarm.
The fate of Biden's plan to send $1,400 to most Americans and deliver other support for the economy remains uncertain given the slim majority of the Democrats in the Senate. But on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats are prepared to push ahead with the relief package, even if it means using procedural tools to pass the legislation without Republicans.
The vaccine rollout and hopes for more economic stimulus have been guiding more optimism toward an economic recovery this year, but the picture remains unclear.
“Not all of those things are playing out in a clear way,” said Sylvia Jablonski, chief investment officer of Defiance ETFs. “We don’t know yet how much of the stimulus will come out and when.”
The yield on the 10-year Treasury edged higher to 1.04% from 1.02% late Monday.
In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 22 cents to $52.83 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gave up 16 cents to $52.77 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, added 22 cents to $55.85 per barrel.
The U.S. dollar was trading at 103.74 Japanese yen, up from 103.62 yen late Tuesday. The euro slipped to $1.2158 from $1.2162.
AP Business Writers Alex Veiga, Damian J. Troise and Ken Sweet contributed.