Asian shares edge lower following Wall St retreat

TOKYO (AP) — Major Asian share indexes edged lower Tuesday in mostly muted trading after a retreat overnight on Wall Street.

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Australia’s benchmark led the decline, falling more than 2% Tuesday ahead of a Reserve Bank of Australia decision that is expected to keep interest rates unchanged.

Newly released manufacturing data from Japan showed factory activity slightly improved, though still in contraction.

The Japanese government reported that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July stood at 2.9%, little changed from recent months.

Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index lost 0.1% to 23,107.90 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong also fell 0.1%, to 25,171.86. South Korea's Kospi gained 1% to 2,349.32. The Shanghai Composite index was virtually flat, at 3,397.14.

The S&P/ASX 200 dropped 2.1% to 5,931.30 ahead of the RBA's policy announcement.

Leaders of Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party were negotiating over who will replace Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after he steps down. The expectation is that his successor will continue the “Abenomics” policies he launched in early 2013, aimed at spurring growth through massive central bank stimulus and cheap credit.

While those policies have not yielded the stronger, sustained growth Abe promised for the world's third largest economy, until late last year Japan had mostly maintained what officials called a “modest recovery."

In late 2019, after a sales tax hike and shocks to export demand from the trade war between the U.S. and China, the economy slipped into recession. This year it has been battered by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and shutdowns to control it.

Overnight, Wall Street ended August with its fifth monthly gain in a row.

The benchmark S&P 500 fell 0.2% to 3,500.31. It finished the month with a 7% gain, making it the S&P 500′s best August since 1986. It’s now up 8.3% this year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.8% to 28,430.05.

The Nasdaq rose 0.7% to 11,775.46. Heavily weighted with tech stocks, it has led the market’s rebound this year. It finished August with a 9.6% gain and is up 31.2% for the year.

The Russell 2000 index of small company stocks fell 1%, to 1,561.88.

The market's latest strong monthly finish extends a remarkable comeback for Wall Street since the coronavirus pandemic knocked financial markets into a steep skid and the global economy into recession.

Encouraging economic data as broad swaths of economies reopened this summer have helped stoke investor optimism about a recovery. The question is whether that's going to be enough to keep markets moving higher when so much uncertainty remains about the pandemic's lasting impact on companies and consumers.

Monday was the first day of trading in the Dow since the 30-company average had its lineup of companies revamped. Salesforce.com, Amgen and Honeywell International are replacing Exxon Mobil, Pfizer and Raytheon Technologies. The shuffle was triggered by a 4-for-1 stock split in Dow member Apple. Tesla also had a 5-for-1 stock split that took effect Monday. Apple was up 3.4%, while Tesla vaulted 12.6%.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil added 41 cents to $43.02 a barrel. It fell 36 cents to $42.61 a barrel Monday. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 47 cents to $45.75 a barrel.

The U.S. dollar edged down to 105.68 Japanese yen from 105.94 yen. The euro cost $1.1992, up from $1.1940.

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AP Business Writers Alex Veiga and Damian J. Troise contributed to this report.

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama