Asian stocks advance ahead of Fed meeting, Tokyo closed

Currency traders watch monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Asian stock markets were slightly higher ahead of the Federal Reserve’s first meeting since the appointment of the new chair. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 1.2 percent and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.1 percent. Japan was closed on a holiday. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A currency trader stretches while working at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Asian stock markets were slightly higher ahead of the Federal Reserve’s first meeting since the appointment of the new chair. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 1.2 percent and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.1 percent. Japan was closed on a holiday. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Currency traders work at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Asian stock markets were slightly higher ahead of the Federal Reserve’s first meeting since the appointment of the new chair. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose 1.2 percent and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.1 percent. Japan was closed on a holiday. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea — Asian stock markets advanced Wednesday ahead of the Federal Reserve's first meeting since the appointment of its new chair, Jerome Powell.

KEEPING SCORE: Hong Kong's Hang Seng index outperformed the region, up 1.2 percent to 31,941.52. China's Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.5 percent to 3,306.09 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.1 percent to 2,487.60. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 advanced 0.2 percent to 5,949.50. Stocks in Taiwan and Southeast Asia were mostly higher. Japan was closed for a holiday.

FED WATCH: The Federal Reserve's leaders have begun a two-day policy meeting that is expected to result in another interest rate increase on Wednesday. The Fed has said it expects to raise interest rates a total of three times this year, and one of the key debates on Wall Street is whether it will wind up increasing rates three times or four. The current meeting is the Fed's first since Jerome Powell became chairman, and investors will be watching his comments at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

ANALYST'S TAKE: No one knows what to expect from the Fed meeting, Stephen Innes of OANDA Trading said in a commentary, "What we do know, however, is this meeting has lots of eyes on it and not just because it's Jerome Powell's first post FOMC press conference, but there's likely to be some nuanced changes in the Fed statement."

FACEBOOK EFFECT: Facebook stocks dropped another 2.6 percent on Tuesday following reports that the Federal Trade Commission will open investigations on its handling of user data following the revelations that Cambridge Analytica harvested private data of its 50 million users. Its shares have fallen 9 percent this week, its worst performance in two years. Other social media companies in the U.S. also finished the day lower on concerns that the government might enact new laws affecting their businesses. In Asia, reactions were relatively muted. Tencent Holdings, which operates China's largest social media app WeChat and is expected to announce earnings later in the day, jumped 1.6 percent. South Korea's Naver Corp., parent of Line messenger app, added 0.1 percent.

WALL STREET: U.S. stock indexes finished mostly higher on Tuesday. The S&P 500 index rose 0.1 percent to 2,716.94. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.5 percent to 24,727.27. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.3 percent to 7,364.30. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 0.16 points to 1,570.41.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 16 cents to $63.70 per in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Tuesday, it finished at $63.54 per barrel, up $1.42 from the previous session. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 21 cents to $67.63 per barrel in London. It rose $1.37, or 2.1 percent, to finish at $67.42 per barrel on Tuesday.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 106.47 yen from 106.53 yen. The euro gained to $1.2265 from $1.2241.

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