Asia Stocks Meander as Oil Pact Weighed

TOKYO (AP) -- Asian stock markets meandered Wednesday as investors weighed a preliminary agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia to hold off on further increases in crude oil production, possibly alleviating a growing glut in supply.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.4 percent to 15,836.36 as investors shrugged off data showing strong machinery orders in January. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.7 percent to 18,984.37 while the Shanghai Composite rose 0.4 percent to 2,846.47. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.6 percent to 4,882.10 and South Korea's Kospi shed 0.2 percent to 1,883.94. Markets rose in Indonesia, Taiwan and New Zealand and fell in Singapore and India.

OIL DEAL: A Russia-Saudi accord announced Tuesday will only take effect if other OPEC nations agree to it, and investors are not convinced they will, so U.S. crude sank overnight after a 12-percent rally on Friday. U.S. markets were closed on Monday. Analysts say Iran probably won't sign on because it wants to raise output following its period of sanctions. The slump in oil prices has been one factor unnerving stock markets recently as a sign of weak global demand.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: "The accord, on face value, suggests more can and will be done over the coming months. However, the current agreement will have little impact on oil markets and there are glaring holes in what has been announced," Evan Lucas of IG said in a commentary. "The market clearly also believes that this an accord to nowhere."

WALL STREET: Shares were lifted by gains in retailers and manufacturers following upbeat news from China on bank lending, relieving worries over China, as strong quarterly earnings gave some stocks a boost. The Dow Jones industrial average added 222.57 points, or 1.4 percent, to 16,196.41. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 30.80 points, or 1.7 percent, to 1,895.58. The Nasdaq composite climbed 98.44 points, or 2.3 percent, to 4,435.96.

ENERGY: U.S. crude fell 7 cents to $28.97 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 40 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $29.04 a barrel in New York on Tuesday. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, added 1 cent to $32.19 a barrel. On Tuesday it lost $1.21, or 3.6 percent, to $32.18 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 113.80 yen from 114.23 yen the previous day. The euro rose to $1.1163 from $1.1127.

(KA)