Asian stocks take breather from trade tension; markets mixed

Annabelle Liang, Associated Press

Trader Steven Kaplan works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, June 19, 2018. U.S. stock markets are opening sharply lower Tuesday as tensions over trade between the U.S. and China seem closer to a boil. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

SINGAPORE (AP) -- Asian markets were mixed on Wednesday as traders sidelined tariffs that the U.S. and China have threatened to impose on one another, focusing on positive housing data instead.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose less than 0.1 percent to 22,287.42 and South Korea's Kospi gained 0.9 percent to 2,361.39 in early trading. Hong Kong's Hang Seng increased 0.1 percent to 29,508.83 while the Shanghai Composite in mainland China slipped 0.9 percent to 2,881.33. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.8 percent to 6,149.20. Taiwan's benchmark fell but Southeast Asian indexes were mixed.

U.S-CHINA TARIFFS: A burgeoning trade war between the U.S. and China is showing no signs of slowing down. On Tuesday, China's government called President Donald Trump's threat of new tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods "blackmail" and warned to retaliate with measures of its own. Trump has already announced a 25 percent tariff on up to $50 billion of Chinese products starting July 6. China retaliated by raising import duties on $34 billion worth of American goods, including soybeans, electric cars and whiskey.

POSITIVE HOUSING DATA: The solid U.S. job market has helped to boost demand for new homes. The Commerce Department said housing starts rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.35 million in May, the strongest pace since July 2007. All of May's construction gains came from a 62 percent jump in the Midwest, while building slumped in the Northeast, South and West.

QUOTEWORTHY: "Trade tension is going to dominate market sentiment in the weeks to come. The market is waiting for Beijing to come out with counter measurements to offload more chips," said Margaret Yang, market analyst at CMC Markets Singapore.

WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks finished lower. The S&P 500 index dropped 0.4 percent to 2,762.57 and the Dow Jones industrial average lost 1.1 percent to 24,700.21. The Nasdaq composite dipped 0.3 percent to 7,725.59.

ENERGY: Oil futures recovered losses from the previous day ahead of an OPEC meeting on Friday. Saudi Arabia and Russia are seeking to raise production by 1.5 million barrels per day, but they may not get their way. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 17 cents to $65.07 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract settled at $64.90 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 21 cents to $75.29 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 110.10 yen from 110.07 yen in late trading Tuesday. The euro ticked up to $1.1582 from $1.1575.

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AP Markets Writer Marley Jay contributed to this report.