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Asian shares mixed, eyes on US housing data

HONG KONG/TOKYO--Asian markets were mixed Wednesday, with Tokyo stocks dropping after the previous session's surge, as investors awaited U.S. housing data and minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting.

The yen rebounded in Asia after tumbling on the Bank of Japan's (BoJ) decision Tuesday to boost lending to commercial banks.

Tokyo lost 0.52 percent, or 76.71 points, to 14,766.53, Seoul shed 0.20 percent, or 3.98 points, to 1,942.93, while Sydney gained 0.29 percent, or 15.4 points, to 5,408.2.

The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index added 1.11 percent, or 23.48 points, to 2,142.55 and the Shenzhen Composite Index — which tracks stocks on China's second exchange — gained 0.14 percent, or 1.58 points, to 1,157.20.

Hong Kong reversed early losses to rise 0.34 percent, adding 76.8 points to 22,664.52.

The BoJ announced Tuesday it would double the sum of loan schemes to banks in a bid to stimulate lending to firms and finance growth-stoking projects, such as environmental research and natural resources development.

That helped Tokyo's Nikkei index power 3.13 percent higher on Tuesday, before profit-taking set in on Wednesday.

US stocks closed mostly higher as investors weighed mixed company news and an unexpected slump in home builder confidence.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.15 percent to 16,130.40 while the broader S&P 500 index advanced 0.12 percent to 1,840.76. The Nasdaq added 0.68 percent to 4,272.78.

“Equity indices kicked off the abbreviated trading week on a relatively quiet note,” analysts at Briefing.com said in a client note. U.S. markets were closed Monday for the Presidents' Day holiday.

Later Wednesday investors are looking to minutes from Ben Bernanke's last meeting as Fed chief and U.S. housing start figures for January.

“It will be interesting to see if there was any discussion to accelerate or slow the pace of tapering,” National Australia Bank said, referring to the minutes.

European stocks edged higher in early trading, with Germany's DAX up 0.1 percent at 9665.81. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.1 percent to 6,804.94 and France's CAC 40 similarly gained 0.1 percent to 4,334.47.

Wall Street was poised for a slow start, with Dow Jones and S&P 500 futures both down 0.1 percent.

Stocks made impressive gains last year but sold off sharply in the opening weeks of 2014. Some of January's losses have been recouped, and investors are assessing future moves, said Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

“After the recent bull run there is some consolidation, but the market is still positive,” Yip said.

On currency markets the dollar bought 102.19 yen in afternoon trade compared with 102.40 yen in New York Tuesday.

The euro slipped to 140.60 yen from 140.89 while trading at US$1.3764 against US$1.3759.

Gold fetched US$1,318.37 an ounce at 1040 GMT from US$1,315.44 late Tuesday.

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