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Asian stocks mixed ahead of U.S. Fed chair's speech

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets retreated Thursday as investors looked ahead to a speech by the U.S. Federal Reserve chairman. Market benchmarks in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul fell while Shanghai advanced.

Wall Street's benchmark S&P 500 index hit another high, closing up 1% on Wednesday on strong gains for tech stocks, though most of the other companies in the index declined. Investors are watching Fed chairman Jerome Powell's speech as part of the U.S. central bank's annual Jackson Hole symposium. Officials in the past have used the meeting, being held online this year, to make market-moving announcements.

This year, forecasters expect Powell to talk about inflation and the importance of Congress delivering more economic aid after its last round of stimulus expired. Partisan disagreements have prevented an agreement.

While the Fed keeps interest rates near zero, Powell has said previously Congress needs to take action. Investors, "they may be a little disappointed,” Craig Erlam of Oanda said in a report. “Barring fine tweaks, I don’t think central banks are going to have much to offer for the foreseeable future," Erlam wrote.

The Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.3% to 3,339.40 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo fell 0.4% to 23,194.62. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.6% to 25,331.80. The Kospi in Seoul shed 0.8% to 2,355.57 while Australia's S&P-ASX 200 advanced 0.5% to 6,148.30. India's Sensex opened up 0.5% at 39,277.47. New Zealand and Bangkok while Singapore and Jakarta retreated.

Markets have recovered most of this year's losses, driven by gains for big technology companies investors expect to do well despite the coronavirus pandemic. Forecasters warn, however, the rebound might be too big and too early to be sustained.

The latest data show U.S. economic activity has slowed following its initial rebound from the pandemic. The S&P 500 rose to 3,48.73. Tech stocks in the index accounted for more than 57% of its gain. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.3% to 28,331.92. The Nasdaq composite, which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, climbed 1.7% to 11,665.06, its third-straight record high.

The Fed has been a primary reason for the stock market’s return to a record. Benchmark U.S. crude oil was unchanged at $43.39 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 4 cents on Wednesday to $43.39. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, added 8 cents to $46.24 per barrel in London. It fell 22 cents the pervious session to $45.64.

The dollar declined to 105.96 from Wednesday's 106.00 yen. The euro edged up to $1.1833 from $1.1831.

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