Asian stocks fluctuate as consumer shares slide, energy rallies

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SINGAPORE (Feb 26): Asian stocks swung between gains and losses as consumer stocks and utilities declined and energy shares rallied after a surge in oil yesterday.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index gained less than 0.1 percent to 146.25 as of 9:15 a.m. in Tokyo. The measure climbed to its highest level since Sept. 11 yesterday after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen indicated an increase in interest rates is unlikely before mid-year. Yellen repeated in her second day of testimony to U.S. lawmakers that inflation and wage growth remain too low to warrant rate tightening at the Fed’s next meeting.

“While fears of an earlier-than-expected hike in U.S. interest rates have been calmed, valuations in many markets are starting to look stretched,” Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets in Sydney, said by phone.

The regional benchmark index traded at 14.6 times estimated earnings at Wednesday’s close, the highest since March 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Japan’s Topix index gained 0.2 percent. South Korea’s Kospi index slid 0.2 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index lost 0.4 percent. New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index was little changed after closing at a record high yesterday. Markets in China and Hong Kong have yet to open.

Brent crude surged 5.1 percent in London on Wednesday as Saudi Arabia signaled stronger demand for oil, countering a rise in U.S. stockpiles.

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index were little changed today. The U.S. equity benchmark lost 0.1 percent yesterday, while the Nasdaq Composite Index halted its longest rally since 2009. Hewlett-Packard Co. tumbled the most in 18 months after saying earnings will be hurt by dollar gains, while Apple Inc. slid 2.6 percent.