Asia stocks up as Ukraine tensions continue to ebb

Associated Press
Russian soldiers guard a peer where two Ukrainian naval vessels are moored, in Sevastopol, Ukraine, on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. Ukraine's new prime minister said Wednesday that embattled Crimea must remain part of Ukraine, but may be granted more local powers. Since last weekend, Russian troops have taken control of much of the peninsula in the Black Sea, where Russian speakers are in the majority. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

TOKYO (AP) — Shares were mostly higher in Asia on Thursday as the standoff over Ukraine between Russia and the West continued to ease and the yen weakened.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average was up 1.5 percent at 15,120.01 as the dollar headed back toward 103 yen after dropping in previous days on safe-haven buying of the Japanese currency.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.5 percent at 22,688.30 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.1 percent to 1,972.86. Markets in Southeast Asia were higher but China's Shanghai Composite shed 0.1 percent to 2,051.05.

Overnight, the easing of tensions between Ukraine and Russia that appear to have averted the risk of an outright war enabled markets to settle after days of volatility, though shares still fell.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 0.2 percent to 16,360.18 on Wednesday while the broader S&P 500 index was flat at 1,873.81.

Investors are still monitoring developments in Ukraine, but the focus is shifting to a slew of economic news late this week, culminating with Friday's U.S jobs report for February.

"The markets had a good rebound and now they are locked in a range," said Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

"The Asian markets are inching up but still waiting for more news coming in."

Investors are looking for potential policy changes from China's annual national legislative session, which began Wednesday.

The country's finance minister, Lou Jiwei, said Thursday the government could tolerate growth less than 7.5 percent this year provided sufficient new jobs are created.

Thursday's monthly policy meeting of the European Central Bank is another potential market catalyst. Few economists think the bank will ease policy further, given recent upbeat economic data for the 18-country euro currency union.

Among currencies, the euro was little changed at $1.3724 from $1.3734 late Wednesday. The U.S. dollar rose to 102.73 yen from 102.37 yen.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for April delivery cost $101.07, down 38 cents in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday it fell $1.88 to $101.45. Early in the week, prices for assets like oil and gold jumped due to the tensions in Ukraine.