Asian stocks decline as investors watch US tariff moves

A currency trader talks on the phone at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Asian stock markets fell Wednesday after the surprise departure of President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, who was the administration’s leading internal opponent of his planned tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A man watches computer monitors near the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI), right, and the foreign exchange rate at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Asian stock markets fell Wednesday after the surprise departure of President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, who was the administration’s leading internal opponent of his planned tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Currency traders talk near the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI), center, and the foreign exchange rate between U.S. dollar and South Korean won at the foreign exchange dealing room in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Asian stock markets fell Wednesday after the surprise departure of President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, who was the administration’s leading internal opponent of his planned tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL, South Korea — Asian stock markets fell Wednesday after the surprise departure of President Donald Trump's top economic adviser, who was the administration's leading internal opponent of his planned tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 dipped 0.5 percent to 21,314.49 while South Korea's Kospi rose 0.1 percent to 2,414.58. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.4 percent to 30,403.04 while the Shanghai Composite Index added 0.1 percent to 3,294.66. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 sank 1.1 percent to 5,898.80.

TRADE: Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, announced his departure in a blow to Republicans and business groups who were hoping Trump might heed their concerns about his tariffs plan. Trump has been resisting calls to reverse his stance and has said he will impose tariffs in coming days.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "For the markets, Gary Cohn's departure certainly points strongly to the likelihood that little can halt the President from going ahead with his tariff plans and may mark more volatility to come for markets," said Jingyi Pan, a market strategist at IG in Singapore. "Perhaps the biggest thing to look forward to on this topic will be the details of the plans at the moment, to gain a better gauge of the extent of the impact, whereupon more volatility may be unleashed."

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks finished flat Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.3 percent to 2,728.12. The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 9.36 points to 24,884.12. The Nasdaq composite jumped 0.6 percent to 7,372.01. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks climbed 1 percent, to 1,562.20.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 49 cents to $62.11 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 3 cents to finish at $62.60 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 53 cents to $65.26 per barrel in London. In the previous session, it rose 25 cents to $65.79 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 105.69 yen from 106.15 yen. The euro rose to $1.2421 from $1.2406.

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