Asian stocks mostly higher ahead of Yellen talk, US data

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday as investors maintained a cautiously optimistic outlook while they waited for U.S. economic data and remarks by the Fed chief.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index added 0.4 percent to 16,843.73 and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.2 percent to 1,961.15. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.3 percent to 20,329.79 and the Shanghai Composite Index dipped 0.2 percent to 2,815.72, but Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.5 percent to 5,415.90. Benchmarks in Taiwan, New Zealand and Southeast Asia also rose.

FED RATE: Investors will be watching to see what Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has to say about monetary policy. She’s scheduled to hold a “conversation” about interest rates with a professor at an event at Harvard University. The Fed has signaled that it will raise rates again at its next meeting in June if economic conditions continue to improve, another step in dialing back loose the loose monetary police that has supported global stock markets.

MARKET INSIGHT: “Yellen’s public comments tonight could give markets good reason to remain cautious,” said Margaret Yang, an analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore. With a number of Fed governors signaling recently that they’re leaning toward favoring a rate hike, “her words will be closely watched by the market for a clearer picture of the market outlook.”

GROWTH OUTLOOK: Markets are also awaiting the latest U.S. quarterly growth figures to get a read on the health of the world’s biggest economy. Analysts expect the second of three estimates of gross domestic product, due out after Asian markets close, will be revised up to an annual 0.8 percent rate in the January-March quarter. That’s higher than the initial 0.5 percent estimate last month. Economists expect growth to rebound to about 2 percent in the current quarter and get stronger as the year progresses.

CHINA CHALLENGE: Stocks in Hong Kong and mainland China struggled after disappointing data from the world’s second-biggest economy. Industrial profits rose 4.2 percent last month compared with the year-ago period, slower than the 11.1 percent increase in March, official data showed. It’s the latest sign of economic weakness in China, where growth slowed last year to a 25-year low of 6.9 percent and is expected to decelerate further this year.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks barely budged, with the Dow Jones industrial average dipping 0.1 percent to 17,828.29. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was nearly unchanged at 2,090.10. The Nasdaq composite index added 0.1 percent to 4,901.77.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil slipped lost 31 cents to $49.17 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slipped 8 cents to settle at $49.48 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell 41 cents to $49.76 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 109.95 yen from 109.70 yen. The euro dipped to $1.1185 from $1.1195.