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Stock market today: Asian shares mostly rise cheered by Wall Street finish

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TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares mostly rose Thursday after a firm finish on Wall Street, as expectations remained solid for U.S. interest rate cuts this year.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 jumped 1.7% to 40,120.11. Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.4% to 7,813.80. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.8% to 2,728.82. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng declined 1.2% to 16,725.10, and the Shanghai Composite slipped nearly 0.2% to 3,069.30.

Analysts say Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co’s (TSMC) facilities may get quicker-than-expected relief — easing concerns about production halts — after a powerful earthquake struck Wednesday, killing at least nine people. Trading was closed in Taiwan on Thursday and Friday for national holidays.

“Market participants took comfort in the weaker-than-expected U.S. services purchasing managers index overnight, which offset the surprise rebound in manufacturing activities earlier in the week and suggest that overall demand may still remain tame for the Federal Reserve’s inflation fight,” said Yeap Jun Rong, market analyst at IG.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 inched up by 5.68 points, or 0.1%, to 5,211.49 The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 43.10, or 0.1%, to 39,127.14, and the Nasdaq composite added 37.01, or 0.2%, to 16,277.46.

GE Aerospace helped lead the S&P 500 with a jump of 6.7%. It was the second day of trading for the company after splitting off its power and energy business to mark the end of the General Electric conglomerate. Cal-Maine Foods rose 3.6% after reporting stronger-than-expected profit for the latest quarter by selling a record number of eggs.

They helped offset an 8.2% drop for Intel, which disclosed financial details about key parts of its business for the first time, including its money-losing foundry business. The Walt Disney Co. fell 3.1% after shareholders voted against installing an activist investor to its board who had promised to shake up the company to lift its stock price. The pair’s drops were a large reason the Dow lagged other indexes.

Stocks have broadly slowed their roll since screaming 26% higher from November through March. Worries are rising that a remarkably resilient U.S. economy could prevent the Federal Reserve from delivering as many cuts to interest rates this year as earlier hoped. Critics have also been saying a pullback is overdue as stock prices have grown expensive by several measures.

The Fed has indicated it may still cut its main interest rate three times this year, which would relieve pressure on the economy. But Fed officials say they will do so only if more evidence arrives to show inflation is heading down toward their goal of 2%.

Chair Jerome Powell reiterated that message in a speech Wednesday, spelling out the risks of cutting rates either too early or too late. “Given the strength of the economy and progress on inflation so far, we have time to let the incoming data guide our decisions on policy,” he said.

Wall Street has been worried by a litany of reports showing the economy remains stronger than expected. That’s encouraging because it means the economy continues to avoid a recession, and it should provide support for corporate profits. But it could also add upward pressure on inflation and discourage the Fed from cutting rates.

Markets took encouragement from a report on Wednesday morning showing growth in construction, retail and other U.S. services businesses cooled last month. The report from the Institute from Supply Management also said an index of prices paid was at its lowest level since March 2020, an encouraging trend for inflation.

That calmed Wall Street’s nerves following a report earlier in the morning that markets found more discouraging. It suggested stronger gains than expected in hiring within the private sector. That report from the ADP Research Institute said employers accelerated their hiring last month, when economists were forecasting a slowdown.

A more comprehensive report on the job market for March will arrive from the U.S. government on Friday, and it will likely be the week’s headline economic data.

Traders have already drastically reduced their expectations for how many times the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates this year, halving them from a forecast of six at the start of the year. That has them on the same page with Fed officials generally. Some investors, though, are preparing for two or even zero cuts this year because the Fed may not want to begin lowering rates too close to November’s election out of fear of appearing political.

But the Fed’s Powell said Wednesday the central bank has the independence that “both enables and requires us to make our monetary policy decisions without consideration of short-term political matters.”

In the bond market, Treasury yields fell. The 10-year yield slipped to 4.34% from 4.36% late Tuesday. The two-year yield, which more closely tracks with expectations for Fed action, fell to 4.67% from 4.70%.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude rose 34 cents to $85.77 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 34 cents to $89.69 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar inched up to 151.68 Japanese yen from 151.65 yen. The euro cost $1.0843, little changed from $1.0837.

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AP Business Writer Stan Choe contributed.

By YURI KAGEYAMA
AP Business Writer

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