HONG KONG (Nikkei Markets) -- Asian stocks outside of Japan ended little changed on Wednesday as anxiety over the fallout from the U.S. President's reported interference in a federal investigation weighed on risk assets.
The Nikkei Asia300 Index ended 0.02% higher at 1,221.26. Safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen and the gold advanced after reports of President Donald Trump interfering in a federal investigation raised concerns that his economic agenda may take a back seat. Trump had in February asked former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey to close an investigation into Michael Flynn's links with Russia, the New York Times reported, citing a memo written by Comey. The news comes a week after Trump abruptly dismissed the FBI chief and amid reports the president leaked sensitive information to a Russian diplomat.
The country indexes for China and Hong Kong shed 0.3% each. China Construction Bank (CCB) and AIA Group dropped at least 0.9% each and China Life insurance fell 1.4%. A retreat in global oil prices also weighed on risk appetite, dragging energy producers China Petroleum & Chemical (Sinopec) and CNOOC down 0.3% each.
Heavyweight Tencent Holdings added 0.4%. Shortly after markets closed, the technology giant reported a better-than-expected 58% jump in first-quarter profit. Hong Kong underground rail operator MTR rose 2.3% to a record amid expectations it will join a bid for the Malaysia-Singapore high-speed rail project.
China's central bank and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority on Tuesday approved a bond link between the city and the mainland, providing overseas investors access to China's $9.4 trillion bond market. In the initial phase, only overseas and Hong Kong investors will be able to trade in Chinese bonds, according to the joint announcement. Mainland investors will gain access to Hong Kong bonds on a later date.
The Nikkei Asia300 Malaysia Index added 0.1% after DRB-Hicom shares surged 12% amid hopes of a stake sale in unprofitable unit Proton. DRB-Hicom's board plans to meet this week to discuss proposals from China's Zhejian Geely Holding Group and France's PSA Group, Bloomberg reported, citing a person with knowledge of the situation. Geely Automobile Holdings rose 0.7% in Hong Kong.
Data showed Malaysia's consumer prices rose at a slower-than-expected pace in April. The consumer price index rose 4.4% in the month, according to a statement from the Department of Statistics. That compares to a median 4.5% increase predicted by nine economists in a Nikkei Markets poll and March's 5.1% year-on-year gain.
Neighboring city-state Singapore's 22-stock gauge added 0.2%. Singapore's core exports declined unexpectedly in April after five straight months of growth, hurt by a sharp decline in the volatile pharmaceutical segment. According to trade agency International Enterprise Singapore, the city-state's non-oil domestic exports fell 0.7% in April from a year ago to a seasonally adjusted 13.6 billion Singapore dollars ($9.75 billion), a reversal from the double-digit expansion seen in February and March.
The country index for South Korea rose 0.6%, while Taiwan's gauge shed 0.1%.
India's 44-stock gauge rose 0.3% after Tata Steel shares surged 8%. The steelmaker reported a narrower March quarter loss late Tuesday.
-- Nimesh Vora and V.Phani Kumar
--Nikkei Markets is a real-time financial news service for South East Asia's markets published by Nikkei NewsRise Asia Pte Ltd, a Nikkei and NewsRise joint venture company. Nikkei Markets provides wide companies coverage in the region, including the Nikkei's Asia300 companies.