Asian Stock Gauge Fluctuates Before Fed Policy Statement

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gsr-761Asia’s benchmark stock gauge fluctuated as investors weighed the prospect of further sanctions against Russia and awaited theFederal Reserve’s policy statement. Japan Display Inc. sank in its trading debut.

Nufarm Ltd. climbed 4.3 percent in Sydney as Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG raised their ratings on Australia’s biggest supplier of agricultural chemicals after the company said it would close two manufacturing sites. Japan Display tumbled 17 percent on its first trading day in Tokyo after the supplier of screens for Apple Inc. devices raised 318.5 billion yen ($3.1 billion) through an initial public offering. Newcrest Mining Ltd. advanced 3.6 percent in Sydney after CLSA Asia Pacific Markets raised its rating on the stock to buy.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index was little changed at 135.06 as of 10:23 a.m. in Tokyo, after rising 0.2 percent and falling 0.1 percent. The U.S. and Europe pledged more sanctions against Russia while President Vladimir Putin, pushing to annex Crimea, said his country didn’t intend to further split Ukraine. The Federal Open Market Committee will end a two-day policy meeting today, after data yesterday indicating the U.S. home-building industry is stabilizing.

“The soft approach from the EU on Russia suggests that major sanctions are, in the interim, unlikely and the market is giving risk the benefit of the doubt,” Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG Ltd. in Melbourne, wrote in an e-mail. “This dulling down of the situation has seen the market’s attention move away from Eurasia and back to the U.S.”

The Fed will press on with cuts to its bond-buying program and switch to qualitative guidance for assessinginterest rates, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The FOMC will further scale back its bond-buying program at the meeting, reducing purchases for the third time by $10 billion to a $55 billion monthly rate, according to the survey done from March 14-17.

Regional Gauges

Japan’s Topix index rose 0.1 percent. South Korea’s Kospi index gained 0.2 percent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index added 0.1 percent, while New Zealand’s NZX 50 Index increased 0.4 percent. Singapore’s Straits Times Index fell 0.5 percent.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index slipped 4.5 percent this year through yesterday, when shares on the gauge traded at 12.7 times estimated earnings. That compares with a multiple of 15.9 for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and 14.3 for the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.

Futures on the S&P 500 were little changed today. The U.S. benchmark index climbed 0.7 percent yesterday as housing data bolstered confidence in the economy.

Housing Starts

A Commerce Department report showed housing starts were little changed in February after declining less than previously estimated a month earlier, indicating the home-building industry is stabilizing after bad winter weather curbed construction. Permits filed for future projects increased 7.7 percent to a 1.02 million pace in February, the most since October.

Leaders of Poland and Estonia, two of the countries on the front line of turmoil in Ukraine, told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden they want a more aggressive stance toward Russia. Biden is on a two-day trip to the region aimed at assuring North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies that the U.S. will support them against any attempt by Russia to encroach on their territory.

Putin yesterday ordered the approval of Crimea’s accession to Russia a day after the U.S. and European Union imposed limited sanctions on some people linked to the annexation of the Ukrainian territory.