Asia stocks drift before Shanghai free trade plan

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian stocks drifted on Friday, with markets in China edging slightly higher as investors stayed cautious ahead of a major holiday and details from the highly anticipated unveiling of a free trade zone in Shanghai. Stocks in Tokyo slid after Japan’s inflation spiked.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index rose 0.1 percent to 23,149.75 while in mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index advanced 0.1 percent to 2,158.51.

Markets in China were subdued ahead of the launch Sunday of a pilot free trade zone in Shanghai.

“In China, investors and businessmen are awaiting the details of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone,” Frances Cheung, a strategist at Credit Agricole CIB, wrote in a research note.

China’s leaders have already loosened restrictions on foreign investment in the 29-square-kilometer (11.2-square-mile) zone. Further details are expected when the zone is inaugurated.

Cheung predicted that authorities would relax taxes, trade quotas and administrative red tape in the zone.

A weeklong holiday that starts Tuesday and follows another three-day holiday just last week was also expected to keep some investors on the sidelines.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 dipped 0.3 percent to 14,753.19 after the country’s consumer price inflation rose at the fastest rate in five years.

South Korea’s Kospi climbed 0.2 percent to 2,010.38 while Australia’s S&P ASX 200 rose 0.2 percent to 5,304.50. Benchmarks in New Zealand, Taiwan and Singapore also advanced but India’s dropped.

“People are cautious as we enter the last quarter and no point in taking a position with so many macro issues overhanging the market” such as a battle over the U.S. debt limit looming in October, said Andrew Sullivan, director of Asian sales trading at Kim Eng Securities.

In the U.S., upbeat economic data supported stocks. Reports showed unemployment claims fell to their second lowest level in six years and the economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate in the second quarter. The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 0.4 percent to 15,328 while the S&P 500 index rose 0.4 percent to close at 1,698.67. The Nasdaq climbed 0.7 percent to 3,787.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3486 from $1.3490 in late trading Thursday. The dollar slipped to 98.65 yen from 99.00 yen.

In energy markets, benchmark oil for November delivery fell 33 cents to $102.70 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 37 cents to settle at $103.03 on Thursday.

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