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Asian Shares Drift Lower As Trade Worries Weigh

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Asian stocks ended broadly lower on Wednesday as investors fretted about U.S.-China trade relations and looked ahead to the Fed's policy decision later in the day, with many expecting the central bank to reaffirm its dovish stance.

Chinese shares closed lower in light of uncertainty over progress in the U.S.-China trade talks. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index finished marginally lower at 3,090.64, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dropped 0.5 percent to 29,320.97.

Meanwhile, Japanese shares ended modestly higher ahead of the Fed's policy decision later in the day and a public holiday on Thursday. The Nikkei 225 Index rose 42.07 points or 0.2 percent to 21,608.92 and the broader Topix closed up 0.3 percent at 1,614.39.

Sumco Corp. gained 0.6 percent and Screen Holdings advanced 1.9 percent after the Philadelphia Semiconductor index rose over 1 percent to hit a six-month high.

On the other hand, Sony Corp. tumbled 3.4 percent and Nintendo slumped 3.2 percent after Google announced a video game streaming service dubbed Stadia.

In economic news, minutes from the Bank of Japan's January monetary policy meeting revealed that the central bank expects annual inflation to continue to increase gradually towards 2 percent.

Australian markets finished modestly lower as trade tensions resurfaced and caution set in ahead of the Fed's interest-rate decision.

The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index dropped 19.50 points or 0.3 percent to 6,165.30, while the broader All Ordinaries Index ended down 24.80 points or 0.4 percent at 6,251.80.

Mining heavyweight BHP dropped 1 percent, Rio Tinto declined 2.8 percent and smaller rival Fortescue Metals Group plunged 6.8 percent after a Brazilian court cleared the way for Vale SA to resume operations at its Brucutu mine.

The big four banks ended on a mixed note, while energy stocks finished broadly higher. Financial services company Eclipx Group lost 56 percent after the company warned its financial performance had deteriorated markedly in February.

Crop protection company Nufarm gave up almost 24 percent after it posted a half-year loss and cut its fiscal 2019 outlook due to dry weather.

Seoul stocks recouped early losses to end largely unchanged after Samsung Electronics said its new Galaxy flagship smartphones were selling well in China. While Samsung shares rose 0.3 percent, the benchmark Kospi finished marginally lower at 2,177.10. Chipmaker SK Hynix jumped 3.7 percent.

New Zealand shares fell notably, with the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 Index ending down 61.57 points or 0.7 percent at 9,435.70. Dairy processing firm Synlait Milk slumped 13.6 percent on underwhelming half-year results.

New Zealand posted a seasonally adjusted current account deficit of NZ$2.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2018, Statistics New Zealand said in a report.

The current account deficit for the year ended December 2018 widened to NZ$11.0 billion (3.7 percent of GDP) from the NZ$8.2 billion deficit for the December 2017 year (2.9 percent of GDP).

Overnight, U.S. stocks ended narrowly mixed, giving up earlier gains on a Bloomberg report that China is pushing back against U.S. demands in trade negotiations.

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