HONG KONG (AP) — Most Asian stock markets declined Wednesday after a North Korean nuclear test unnerved investors and a poor Chinese economic report dampened sentiment.
KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 1.3 percent to 18,144.99 and South Korea’s Kospi slid 0.5 percent to 1,920.16. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.8 percent to 21,005.51 but the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China rose 0.7 percent to 3,310.24. It had slumped 6.9 percent on Monday and 0.3 percent on Tuesday. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 retreated 1.3 percent to 5,117.90.
NUCLEAR TEST: North Korea announced it had successfully carried out a hydrogen bomb test, following a report by South Korea that it detected an “artificial earthquake” near the North’s main nuclear test site. The test is likely to raise tensions in the region and make investors more cautious and less willing to place risky bets. The surprise announcement makes it tougher to curb North Korea’s longstanding efforts to establish an arsenal of nuclear-armed long-distance missiles.
SERVICE SLIDE: A monthly survey of China’s service industries slipped to a 17-month low, renewing fears among investors that the world’s No. 2 economy was facing stronger headwinds. The Caixin/Markit survey of service industry purchasing managers slipped to 50.2 in December from 51.2 the previous month. The index is based on a 100-point scale with numbers above 50 indicating expansion. China’s service sector has helped offset weakness in trade and investment as the economy undergoes a painful slowdown, but the latest figures show momentum is slowing.
CHINA MEASURES: The stock market in China itself steadied further after news that Beijing would keep market steadying measures in place. A report in the Shanghai Securities News said the government would keep in place rules preventing shareholders who own more than 5 percent of a company from selling off their stakes until new rules come into effect. Analysts had expected selling pressure to resume after the week ended because the six-month-old ban was due to expire.
WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended Tuesday with tiny gains. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.1 percent to close at 17,158.66 and the Standard & Poor’s 500 edged up 0.2 percent to 2,016.71. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.2 percent to 4,891.43. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slumped 1.2 percent to 5,121.50.
ENERGY: Crude futures stabilized, with benchmark U.S. oil adding 6 cents to $36.03 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 79 cents, or 2.1 percent, to settle at $35.97 a barrel on Thursday as demand appeared to weaken because of large global stockpiles. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, rose 9 cents to $36.51 a barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 118.66 yen from 119.13 yen in the previous day’s trading. The euro strengthened to $1.0747 from $1.0744.