TOKYO – Shares were mostly higher in Asia on Thursday after a mixed close on Wall Street, where gains for several Big Tech stocks nudged the S&P 500 to a second record high in three days.
Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index slipped 0.4% to 29,610.20 as a resurgence in coronavirus cases undermined confidence in a recovery from the pandemic.
But other regional markets advanced. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong jumped 0.9% to 28,917.55. In Seoul, the Kospi edged 0.1% higher to 3,142.68. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 1% to 6,994.00. The Shanghai Composite index added 0.2% to 3,486.19.
Tokyo reported 555 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as the country confirmed 3,000 new cases, raising the possibility of renewed efforts to curb outbreaks.
On Wednesday, the benchmark S&P 500 inched up 0.1% to 4,079.95. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.1% to 33,446.26. The Nasdaq composite slipped 0.1% to 13,688.84. The S&P 500 and Dow each set record highs on Monday.
Small company stocks, which have been outgaining the broader market this year, took the brunt of the selling. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 1.6%, to 2,223.05. The index is up 12.6% so far this year, while the S&P 500, which tracks large companies, is up 8.6%.
The broader market has been mostly subdued this week as investors remain cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery. Vaccine distribution has been ramping up and President Joe Biden has bumped up his deadline for states to make doses available to all adults by April 19. The vaccines are helping to fuel a recovery, but the virus is still very much a threat as variants are discovered and threaten additional lockdowns.
Analysts expect the economy to recover this year, but they also anticipate the market remain choppy as investors shift money to companies and industries that stand to benefit as the pandemic eases.
Carnival, which essentially shut down during the pandemic, rose 1.4% Wednesday. The company said bookings have picked up. Other cruise line operators also gained ground as they plan to restart operations.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury inched up to 1.66% after moving up and down for much of the day. A sharp increase in bond yields since the beginning of the year reflects a growing concern among investors that inflation could return as economic growth heats up and the U.S. pulls out of its pandemic-induced recession. Higher yields can slow down the economy by making it more expensive for people and businesses to borrow money.
The stock indexes were little changed Wednesday following the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting on interest rate policy.
The minutes revealed that Fed officials were encouraged last month by evidence the U.S. economy was picking up, but they showed no sign of moving closer to ending their bond purchases or lifting their benchmark short-term interest rate from nearly zero.
Fed policymakers also said they expect inflation will likely rise in the next few months because of supply bottlenecks, but they believe it will remain near their 2% target over the longer run.
“Nothing was all that surprising from the minutes," said Stephanie Roth, senior markets economist at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. "The Fed is watching closely, not just the unemployment rate, but they’re really focusing on bringing back the population that has fallen out of the labor force.”
The minutes are from a Fed meeting that came before last week’s March jobs report, which showed a surprisingly strong 916,000 positions were added that month, the most since August, and the unemployment rate fell to 6% from 6.2%.
In other trading, benchmark U.S. crude oil lost 12 cents to $59.65 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It picked up 44 cents to $59.77 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, the international standard for pricing, gave up 9 cents to $63.07 per barrel.
The U.S. dollar slipped to 109.75 Japanese yen from 109.85 yen. The euro rose to $1.1871 from $1.1868.