Asia stock markets mostly higher in cautious trade

HONG KONG: Most Asian stock markets drifted higher Wednesday, but many investors held back for clues to whether the recent rally would resume or continue to peter out.

Several major markets — including China, Japan and Hong Kong — fluctuated in thin, lethargic trade that bucked an overnight rebound on Wall Street. Crude oil prices rose to near $70 a barrel, while stock futures pointed to a slightly weaker open in the U.S. Wednesday.

Markets around the world plummeted Monday as investors, fretting over weakness in American consumer spending and spooked by steep losses in Shanghai, rushed to cash in profits after a five-month rally that's boosted many benchmarks over 50 percent.

Analysts said investors were now searching for direction, with a mix of ambiguous economic data and summer holidays binding the markets in a narrow range for now. China was also in focus ahead of a string of corporate results in the comings weeks that could shape trade.

"This is an opportunity for people to be on the sidelines without having to be active. Many are waiting for fresh news and fresh incentives," said Miles Remington, head of Asian sales trading at BNP Paribas Securities in Hong Kong.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average was little changed, up 4.19 points at 10,289.15.

In China, the Shanghai benchmark fell 10.48 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,900.40 while Hong Kong's Hang Send added 14.33 points, or less than 0.1 percent, at 20,320.60.

Elsewhere, Korea's Kospi rose 0.8 percent, India's Sensex was 0.3 percent higher and Taiwan's index gained 0.6 percent. Australia's benchmark rose 0.8 percent.

Overnight in the U.S, stronger-than-expected retail earnings reports and the latest reading on housing sent markets to a higher finish following a bout of heavy selling on Monday.

The Dow rose 82.60, or 0.9 percent, to 9,217.94. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 9.94, or 1 percent, to 989.67, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 25.08, or 1.3 percent, to 1,955.92.

In futures trading, Dow futures were down 7 points, or 0.1 percent, at 9,200 and S&P futures lost 0.6, or 0.1 percent, to 989.

Oil prices were higher in Asia, up 79 cents to $69.98 a barrel. On Tuesday, the contract gained $2.44 to settle at $69.19.

The dollar was little changed at 94.65 yen from 94.70 yen, while the euro rose to $1.4153 from $1.4131.