MUMBAI (NewsRise) - Asian stocks edged lower Thursday, as caution about U.S. policies continued to dominate sentiment, even as the U.S. Federal Reserve held interest rates steady and refrained from indicating when it will move to tighten policy next.
The Nikkei Asia300 Index ended 0.2% or 1.9 points lower at 1,096.28. Hong Kong-listed financial and telecom heavyweights contributed most to losses on the 324-stock gauge, while Samsung Electronics and Indian technology stocks rebounded.
Investors continue to remain cautious about U.S. President Donald Trump's policies. The political novice, who became for 45th President of the United States less than two weeks ago, has rattled markets with his decisions, which include a travel ban to the U.S. on citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations and refugees and an order to pull the nation out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The dollar index, which shed 2.6% last month, was last down 0.3% and U.S. stock indexes have pulled away from recent record highs.
The U.S. central bank left rates unchanged at its first policy review in 2017, as was widely expected. The monetary authority sounded optimistic about prospects for the U.S. economy, but did not offer any indications about when it will raise rates next. It has previously signaled the possibility of three rate increases this year and Fed Chair Janet Yellen last month cautioned against waiting too long to normalize rates in the world's largest economy.
The Fed will meet again on March 14 and March 15 to review policy. Markets await monthly U.S. nonfarm payrolls numbers for January, due Friday.
The Nikkei Asia300 Hong Kong Index slipped 0.8% to 1,034.45 points Thursday, weighed down by a 0.7% slide in Tencent Holdings and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's (ICBC) 0.8% decline. Heavyweight insurer AIA Group slipped 1.5%.
Mainland Chinese markets will reopen Friday after a week-long holiday for Chinese New Year.
The Nikkei Asia300 Taiwan Index fell 0.2% to 1,188.69 points, as trading opened after a week's break. Chipmaker Hon Hai Precision Industry or Foxconn rose 0.5%, spurred by news that its client Apple reported robust sales for its iPhones. Eclat Textile led losses in Taiwan, sliding 10%.
South Korea's gauge added 0.1% to 1,187.43 points. Data released Thursday showed consumer prices rose a better-than-expected 2% in January and at their fastest pace in more than four years, according to Reuters.
Tech giant Samsung Electronics reversed a part of Wednesday's decline to add 0.6%.
Singapore's index slumped 1.2% to 1,050.33 points, weighed down by losses in financial and telecom stocks. Heavyweight and Southeast Asia's largest telecom operator Singapore Telecommunications slipped 1%. Lenders DBS Group Holdings, United Overseas Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp also fell.
Bad debt worries cast a shadow on banks in Malaysia and Singapore as external and domestic factors whacked the lenders' credit prospects.
Outstanding loans in the Malaysian banking system grew 5.3% in 2016, its slowest pace in at least 10 years. The neighboring city state witnessed at 0.5% loan growth in December, the first -on-year gain after contracting through 11 months.
The Nikkei Asia300 Malaysia Index rose 0.3% to 977.19 points Thursday.
India's index extended Wednesday's jump to gain 0.8% to 1,076.10 points amid lingering optimism that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's budget for next fiscal year which outlined plans for higher public spending will spur consumption.
Technology stocks, which slumped recently on concerns of tighter U.S. visa norms, rebounded. Tata Consultancy Services rose 1.7%, while Bengaluru-based Infosys added more than 2% to end at 935.35 rupees.
--Dhanya Ann Thoppil