Most Asia stock markets retreated Wednesday as rising geopolitical risks kept investors on edge, with Japanese shares leading the decline after the strengthening yen crossed a key level.
KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index tumbled 1.2 percent to 18,516.04 after the dollar fell under 110 yen for the first time in five months, pressuring the country's exporters. Hong Kong's Hang Seng shed 0.2 percent to 24,049.17 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China lost 0.4 percent to 3,275.12.Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.2 percent to 5,918.90 but South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 percent to 2,126.68. Shares in Southeast Asia were mostly lower.
GLOBAL GLOOM: Investors are cautious as world events this week complicate the investment outlook. Tensions are rising over North Korea, which threatened the U.S. against making any military moves after it sent aircraft carrier to the divided Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow with the aim of persuading Russia to ditch its ally Syria following last week's chemical attack. France's election later in the month is also giving investors a reason to hunker down and avoid taking any big risks.
QUOTEWORTHY: "Safe havens had obviously gained attractiveness amid the tensions surrounding geopolitics," said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG. "North Korean (and) Syrian tensions and the upcoming French election appear to be topping the list of reasons to seek the flight to safety at the moment."
TROUBLED TOSHIBA: Shares of the Japanese electronics maker extended losses, falling more than 2 percent after it raised doubts about its ability to survive as a company. In an unaudited financial report, the company said there are "material events and conditions" that make it questionable whether it can continue as a going concern.
CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to a five-month low against the yen as investors seeking security amid global uncertainty piled into the Japanese currency, which is traditionally seen as a haven. The dollar weakened to 109.51 yen from 110.94 yen late Monday, the first time it has broken past the 110 level since mid-November. The euro slipped to $1.0600 from $1.0604.
PRECIOUS METAL: Gold, another asset sought by nervous investors, continued to gain, rising $4.80, or 0.4 percent, to $1,274.20 an ounce, its highest in more than five months.
WALL STREET: Major U.S. benchmarks ended with little change. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.1 percent to 2,353.78. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 0.03 percent to 20,651.30. The Nasdaq composite index slipped 0.2 percent to 5,866.77.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude extended its rally. Oil rose 19 cents to $53.58 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 32 cents to close at $53.40 a barrel on Thursday, its sixth gain in a row. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, added 19 cents to $56.42 a barrel.