By V. Phani Kumar, MarketWatch
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — South Korean and Japanese stocks rose and mainland Chinese shares fell after a choppy trading session in Asia Wednesday as investors looked ahead to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s congressional testimony later in the day.
BHP Billiton Ltd. and Rio Tinto Ltd. rose in Sydney after issuing strong production reports, while Datang International Power Generation Co. climbed in Shanghai and Hong Kong on an upbeat profit forecast.
South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 -1.28% ended 1.1% higher, Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK -0.79% rose 0.1% and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO -2.31% slipped 0.1%.
Next 24: Watching for Bernanke
Yahoo and CSX are active after hours on their earnings reports. Overseas investors await Ben Bernanke's appearance before U.S. lawmakers. Earnings season remains in full swing with Bank of America and Abbott reporting.
Most regional benchmarks changed direction at least once during the session as investors awaited the Fed Chairman’s outlook for monetary policy and the central bank’s monthly bond purchases.
“Traders appear to be in a less-than-adventurous mood ahead of the Fed Chairman’s testimony, with the market a little unsure as to whether Bernanke will be wearing his hawkish cap or his dovish cap,” said Tim Waterer, a senior trader at CMC Markets.
The Fed chairman’s testimony, starting Wednesday and ending Thursday, comes after global equity markets got a boost from his remarks last week that the U.S. central bank was in no hurry to raise interest rates.
U.S. stocks fell Tuesday, with Coca-Cola Co. /zigman2/quotes/209159848/composite KO -1.42% and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209237603/composite GS -3.09% losing ground after their quarterly results, and as investors considered Kansas City Fed President Esther George’s comment that the Federal Reserve should pare its bond purchases sooner rather than later.
“While we don’t expect Bernanke to say anything dramatically different from last week, speeches by policy makers are organic, and under tough grilling from Congress, Bernanke could reveal more than he otherwise wanted,” said BK Asset Management managing director Kathy Lien.
The mild gains in Hong Kong came as official data showing foreign-direct-investment flows into China jumped more than 20% in June.
Meanwhile, the Xinhua news service reported that profit at state-owned companies outside the financial sector rose 7% in the first half of the year, accelerating from a 6.5% increase in the first five months of 2013. China’s Ministry of Land and Resources said separately that land prices were expected to rise further in the current quarter, according to a Reuters report.
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Datang International Power Generation Co. /zigman2/quotes/209691840/delayed HK:991 -0.77% /zigman2/quotes/207296457/delayed CN:601991 +1.37% rose 3.5% in Shanghai after the company said it expects a jump of 70%-80% in the first half profit from the year-earlier period.
Chinese coal miners posted strong gains in Hong Kong after sharp losses over the past month, with China Shenhua Energy Co. /zigman2/quotes/206065610/delayed HK:1088 +0.15% /zigman2/quotes/206839995/delayed CSUAY -1.97% jumping 5.3%, and China Coal Energy Co. /zigman2/quotes/201486584/delayed HK:1898 +0.77% /zigman2/quotes/205321671/delayed CCOZY -1.24% rising 3%.
Australian miners were among the region’s notable stock gainers Tuesday, with BHP /zigman2/quotes/208108397/composite BHP -2.28% /zigman2/quotes/201448516/delayed AU:BHP -2.15% climbing 2.3% after its iron-ore production hit a record high in the previous financial year. The diversified resources firm also produced more oil and gas in the year ended June 30.
Fellow miner Rio Tinto /zigman2/quotes/200083756/delayed AU:RIO -1.83% /zigman2/quotes/202627887/composite RIO -1.56% rose 1.1%, on top of its 1.4% advance Tuesday, when it said its own iron-ore production hit a record level in the second quarter.
Shares of surfwear maker Billabong International Ltd. spiked 34% on news the company has secured a private-equity loan and was replacing its chief executive.
In Tokyo, shares of Mitsubishi Motors Corp. /zigman2/quotes/202404490/delayed JP:7211 -0.52% /zigman2/quotes/200876874/delayed MMTOF -2.25% soared 11.1% accompanied by massive volume after the Nikkei newspaper reported it will likely pay out 30%-40% of its profit during the current financial year ending in March in the form of dividends.
NEC Corp. /zigman2/quotes/205173342/delayed JP:6701 -1.84% /zigman2/quotes/203814274/delayed NIPNF 0.00% jumped 4.8% after a separate Nikkei report said the company will exit the smartphones business after it was unable to tie up with Lenovo Group Ltd. Shares of Lenovo /zigman2/quotes/205368244/delayed HK:992 -5.73% /zigman2/quotes/204000062/delayed LNVGY -5.78% gained 0.4% in Hong Kong.