Stocks in Japan made small gains while Hong Kong and Australia fell Thursday, as investors turned to Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen ’s testimony for clues about when interest rates might rise. The Nikkei Stock Average was up 0.5% to 18682.91, following Wall Street’s higher close overnight. But the region was mixed amid a light day for Asia data. Hong Kong shares rose 0.2% while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200, Korea’s Kospi, Taiwan’s Taiex and Singapore’s Strait Times Index were each down a fraction of a percent.
Markets are expecting the U.S. central bank to move toward raising interest rates later this year after Ms. Yellen on Wednesday echoed her message that the U.S. economy has improved and that wage growth and inflation must climb before rates can be raised, even though the job market has picked up. Higher interest rates in the U.S. are considered a risk to money flows toward riskier assets like stocks in emerging markets, including Asia.
A weaker yen support Tokyo shares, with the U.S. dollar at ¥119.02, higher than ¥118.86 late Wednesday in New York. “Stocks [in Japan] remain ripe for profit-taking, but plenty of domestic pension support is keeping [the market] afloat at near 15-year highs; pullbacks are just not very severe,” said Mutsumi Kagawa, senior global strategist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. The Nikkei closed Wednesday at its second-highest level this year.