Asian Markets Mostly Lower Ahead Of Fed Decision, Trade Talks

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Asian stock markets are mostly lower on Wednesday following the mixed cues overnight from Wall Street, while higher commodity prices lifted resources stocks. Investors turned cautious ahead of the start of U.S.-China trade talks and the U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary policy decision due later in the day.

The Australian market is modestly higher, paring early gains. Higher commodity prices lifted resources stocks, while the heavyweight financial sector traded weak.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index is adding 9.10 points or 0.15 percent to 5,883.30, off a high of 5,912.40 earlier. The broader All Ordinaries Index is up 10.00 points or 0.17 percent to 5,949.50. Australian stocks closed lower on Tuesday.

The major miners are gaining on surging iron ore and copper prices amid supply concerns due to the mining disaster in Brazil. BHP Group is advancing almost 2 percent, Rio Tinto is rising more than 1 percent and Fortescue Metals is gaining more than 5 percent.

Oil stocks are higher after crude oil prices rebounded more than 2 percent overnight. Oil Search is advancing more than 1 percent, Woodside Petroleum is adding 1 percent and Santos is rising almost 1 percent.

Gold miners are mixed, even as gold prices rose to eight-month highs. Evolution Mining is down 0.2 percent, while Newcrest Mining is advancing more than 3 percent after reporting a nearly 7 percent increase in gold output for the second quarter.

The big four banks are lower, ahead of the publication of the royal commission findings later this week. ANZ Banking, National Australia Bank, Westpac and Commonwealth Bank are down in a range of 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent.

Temple and Webster Group reported a 40 percent surge in revenue for the first half of the year. The online furniture retailer's shares are gaining more than 12 percent.

On the economic front, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that consumer prices in Australia were up 0.4 percent on quarter in the fourth quarter of 2018, unchanged from the third quarter and in line with expectations.

On a yearly basis, inflation advanced 1.8 percent - exceeding expectations for 1.7 percent and down from 1.9 percent in the three months prior.

In the currency market, the Australian dollar is lower against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday. The local currency was quoted at $0.7154, down from a high of $0.7165 on Tuesday.

The Japanese market slipped into negative territory after opening higher.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 Index is losing 134.17 points or 0.65 percent to 20,530.47, after touching a high of 20,706.27 in early trades. Japanese shares ended little changed on Tuesday.

The major exporters are mixed on a stronger yen. Sony is declining more than 1 percent and Mitsubishi Electric is edging down 0.1 percent, while Panasonic is adding 0.5 percent and Canon is up 0.2 percent.

In the tech sector, Advantest is losing almost 1 percent, while Tokyo Electron is adding 0.5 percent. Among Apple's suppliers, Japan Display and Alps Alpine are losing almost 4 percent each, while Nitto Denko is declining more than 1 percent and Sharp Corp. is lower by almost 1 percent.

Among the major automakers, Toyota is declining almost 1 percent and Honda is down 0.2 percent.

In the banking space, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial is losing 0.6 percent and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial is lower by almost 1 percent. In the oil space, Japan Petroleum is down 0.2 percent, while Inpex is edging up 0.1 percent despite a rebound in crude oil prices overnight.

Among the major gainers, Taiyo Yuden and Asahi Group are rising more than 3 percent each, while Sumco Corp. is adding more than 2 percent.

On the flip side, Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma is falling more than 18 percent, while Daiwa Securities is lower by more than 4 percent each.

In economic news, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said that retail sales in Japan were up a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent on month in December. That exceeded expectations for an increase of 0.4 percent following the downwardly revised 1.1 percent decline in November.

In the currency market, the U.S. dollar is trading in the lower 109 yen-range on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in Asia, Shanghai, New Zealand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Taiwan are also lower, while South Korea and Indonesia are modestly higher.

On Wall Street, stocks closed mixed on Tuesday in choppy trading in a mixed reaction to earnings news from big-name companies such as 3M, Pfizer and Verizon. Traders also seemed reluctant to make more significant moves ahead of the release of quarterly results from tech giant Apple after the close of trading and the Federal Reserve's monetary policy decision on Wednesday.

While the Dow rose 51.74 points or 0.2 percent to 24,579.96, the Nasdaq slumped 57.39 points or 0.8 percent to 7,028.29 and the S&P 500 dipped 3.85 points or 0.2 percent to 2,640.00.

The major European markets moved to the upside on Tuesday. The German DAX Index crept up by 0.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index advanced by 0.8 percent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index jumped by 1.3 percent.

Crude oil prices rebounded strongly on Tuesday, riding on news that the United States sanctioned Venezuela's state-owned oil company in an effort to pressure President Nicolas Maduro to cede power to rival Juan Guaidó. WTI crude oil futures for March ended up $1.32 or 2.5 percent at $53.31 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.