Asia stocks tentative, dollar slips before Yellen’s rates signal

SINGAPORE/TOKYO, Aug 26 (Reuters) – Asian stocks were steady on Friday with modest losses in some markets and gains in others reflecting nervousness before a keenly anticipated speech by U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan was little changed as investors awaited some direction from Yellen on whether the Fed might raise interest rates this year at the annual gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The Asia-Pacific benchmark is on track for a 0.25 percent loss for the week.

Japan’s Nikkei extended losses to 0.7 percent, set for a weekly drop of 0.6 percent. South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.3 percent, on track for a 0.9 percent slide for the week.

Chinese shares, however, were higher, with the CSI 300 index and the Shanghai Composite each rising 0.4 percent. They’re on track for declines of 1.2 percent and 0.8 percent respectively.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was also higher, up 0.6 percent and set to finish the week flat.

U.S. stocks were modestly lower on Thursday, weighed down by a drop in healthcare and consumer companies.

Risk markets are wary of Yellen hinting at a near-term interest rate hike, which could divert some of the massive liquidity that has underpinned global markets.

“After a week where most markets have barely moved from where they started, there are likely a number of traders who would relish a bit of volatility this evening,” Angus Nicholson, market analyst at IG in Melbourne, wrote in a note. “There certainly is a fear evident in markets that Janet Yellen is going to be surprisingly hawkish and talk up a September hike.”

Hawkish comments from a slew of other Fed officials have already raised markets expectations of a rate hike this year.

Overnight, several policymakers, including San Fransisco Fed President John Williams and Kansas City Fed President Esther George, defended the need to raise interest rates, albeit gradually, to keep the U.S. economy from overheating.

Those comments were roughly in line with the views expressed by Fed policymakers including Vice Chair Stanley Fischer earlier in the week, adding to expectations that Yellen’s comments would be in a similar vein.

But uncertaintly pulled the U.S. currency lower, with the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against six major peers, slipping 0.1 percent to 94.654. That shrank gains for the week to 0.15 percent.

The dollar was also 0.1 percent weaker versus the yen at 100.49 yen, having risen a modest 0.3 percent so far this week.

The euro was treading water at $1.12910, on track to dip about 0.3 percent on the week.

The Australian dollar nudged up 0.2 percent to $0.7630 .

Oil prices pulled back from overnight gains, after Saudi Arabia’s energy minister tempered expectations of strong market intervention by producers during talks next month, saying the market is already moving in the right direction.

Global benchmark Brent crude lost 0.2 percent to $49.55 a barrel, eroding some of the 1.3 percent gains posted overnight and poised for a loss of 2.6 percent for the week.

U.S. crude oil slipped 0.1 percent to $47.27 a barrel after rising 56 cents, or 1 percent, on Thursday. It’s set to end the week 2.6 percent lower.

Wariness ahead of Yellen’s speech gave gold a leg up. Spot gold inched up 0.2 percent to $1,323.74 an ounce, narrowing this week’s losses to 1.3 percent.