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Asia: Stocks mixed as geopolitics, Fed risks mulled

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[SYDNEY] Stocks in Asia were mixed in early trading Thursday as investors digested the latest signals from the Federal Reserve on the monetary-policy outlook, escalating tensions in the Middle East and a fractious US political landscape.

Equity benchmarks declined in Japan and rose in South Korea, while oil and gold retained gains from Wednesday. The S&P 500 Index retreated overnight amid provocative comments by President Donald Trump about Russia and his warning of preparations to attack Syria.

Hong Kong's dollar fell to the weak end of its permitted band for the first time since the range was imposed in 2005, putting potential intervention by the city's monetary authority in focus.

Geopolitics and minutes of last month's Fed policy meeting overshadowed the latest reading on US consumer prices. The key inflation measure accelerated to the highest in a year as a drag from mobile-phone costs faded, bearing out the Fed's forecast for a pickup in prices.

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Next up is earnings season:

JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc report first-quarter earnings on Friday. A gauge of global earnings revisions showed cuts to company estimates outnumbered upgrades for the first time since September last week.

Elsewhere, Russia's currency slumped to a 16-month low and the country's Finance Ministry canceled a weekly bond auction for the first time since 2015 as the Syria conflict added to stresses from recent US sanctions. Copper retreated and aluminum headed for its biggest winning streak since 1988.

STOCKS

Japan's Topix index fell 0.2 per cent as of 9.43am in Tokyo.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index was little changed.

Kospi index rose 0.4 per cent.

Futures on Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2 per cent.

Futures on the S&P 500 rose 0.3 per cent after the underlying gauge dropped 0.6 per cent Wednesday.

CURRENCIES

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index was little changed.

The yen was flat at 106.82 per US dollar after climbing 0.4 per cent on Wednesday.

The euro was little changed at US$1.2376.

BONDS

The yield on 10-year Treasuries was unchanged at 2.78 per cent.

COMMODITIES

West Texas Intermediate crude was steady at US$66.87 a barrel, around a three-year high. It surged 2 per cent on Wednesday.

Gold was little changed at US$1,352.03 an ounce after jumping one per cent.

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