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Asian shares mostly lower ahead of central bank meetings, worries on Ukraine conflict continue

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TOKYO - Asian stocks were mostly lower Thursday as markets waited for central bank meetings in Europe and Japan while remaining on edge about tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan's Nikkei 225 added 0.5 per cent to close at 15,232.37. But other markets were down. South Korea's Kospi dipped 0.3 per cent to 2,054.51. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong fell 0.8 per cent to 24,382.18. Shares in Singapore Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and India were also down.

CENTRAL BANKS: Markets are monitoring the meetings of central banks Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union, although policy changes are not expected. The Bank of Japan starts a two-day policy meeting ending Friday. Its super easy monetary policy has kept stock prices relatively high and the Japanese yen low, both a plus for the Japanese economy.

ANALYST TAKE: With stock market moves relatively subdued, players have their eyes on possible currency fluctuations. "The focus will be on European currencies later this evening. Both the Bank of England and European Central bank are likely to keep monetary policies unchanged when they hold their respective meetings tonight," said Desmond Chua, market analyst at CMC Markets Singapore.

MIXED SIGNS: There is evidence of a U.S. economic recovery, but players are also considering the prospect the Federal Reserve might raise its benchmark interest rate next year. On the political front, President Barack Obama has said that U.S. sanctions levied against Russia over its actions in Ukraine are working but that Washington would face a much different set of questions about how to respond if Moscow invaded Ukraine's east.

WALL STREET: The Standard & Poor's 500 rose less than 0.1 per cent to 1,920.24 on Wednesday. The index is still up on the year, but has dropped 3.5 per cent from its record close set July 24. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 per cent to 16,443.34. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.1 per cent to 4,355.05.

CURRENCIES, OIL: The dollar rose to 102.28 yen from 102.11 yen late Wednesday. The euro was at $1.3380 from $1.3382. Benchmark U.S. crude for September delivery was up 3 cents to $96.95 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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