Asian shares shrug off Wall St losses as China ends congress

FILE- In this March 11, 2019, file photo trader John Panin, right, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The U.S. stock market opens at 9:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday, March 14. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Shares were higher Friday in Asia after a day of lackluster trading on Wall Street.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index jumped 1 percent to 21,501.48 as the Bank of Japan ended a policy meeting by keeping its key interest rate at minus 0.1 percent, maintaining its stance of extreme monetary easing and lavish stimulus.

Chinese shares surged as the annual session of its ceremonial congress ended with Premier Li Keqiang pledging support for the slowing economy.

Li said the country would cut fees and taxes, delivering help worth almost 2 trillion yen (about $300 billion) to companies, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

"We are going to cut value-added tax rates for manufacturing and other basic sectors, as well as for small and medium-sized companies, the largest providers of jobs in our country, in a meaningful way," Xinhua quoted him as saying.

The Shanghai Composite index jumped 1.5 percent to 3,036.76 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1 percent to 29,124.18.

Investors spent Thursday in a wait-and-see mode, keeping a close watch on global trade issues and continuing to mostly brush off the chaos surrounding Britain's exit from the European Union, its key trading bloc.

U.S. stocks indexes barely budged Thursday as the market's three-day winning streak stalled.

The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index 0.1 percent to 2,808.48. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat at 25,709.94. The Nasdaq composite dropped 0.2 percent to 7,630.91, while the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 0.4 percent, to 1,549.63.

Facebook fell 1.8 percent after the New York Times reported that its data-sharing practices are now under criminal investigation.

The investigation into how it sells data is the latest in a list of privacy scandals the social media company faces. Its privacy practices have already been scrutinized by The Federal Trade Commission. The company and its CEO have also faced Congressional inquiries.

Boeing fell 1 percent. The stock has slumped throughout the week as nations and airlines grounded its newest 737s over safety concerns. A second deadly crash over the weekend involving its 737 Max 8 and safety concerns stunted the company's stock gains.

The Commerce Department said sales of new U.S. homes slumped 6.9 percent in January, a possible sign that would-be buyers paused during the government shutdown even as mortgage rates continued to decline. The report also showed sales prices declined 3.8 percent. Homebuilder stocks were mostly trading lower following the report.

Investors are still waiting for some more news on U.S.-China trade negotiations.

A report by Bloomberg said a possible summit meeting of President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had been pushed back to April and that it would be clear if a deal could be reached on their dispute over Beijing's industrial strategies and other issues within several weeks.

ELSEWHERE IN ASIA: South Korea's Kospi advanced 0.7 percent to 2,169.91 and the S&P ASX 200 rose 0.2 percent to 6,190.50. India's Sensex surged 0.7 percent to 38,015.13. Shares rose in Taiwan and most of Southeast Asia but fell in Thailand.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 111.67 Japanese yen from 111.70 yen on Thursday. The euro rose to $1.1319 from $1.1304.

ENERGY: The price of U.S. crude oil added 1 cent to $58.62 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 0.6 percent Thursday to settle at $58.61 a barrel.

Brent crude, used as an international standard, was flat at $67.23 per barrel.

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AP Business writers Damien J. Troise and Alex Veiga contributed.

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