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Asia stocks flat as US return from holiday awaited

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets displayed little momentum Tuesday in the absence of cues from Wall Street following a holiday in the U.S.

In Japan, investors went for profits following Monday's strong rally. The Nikkei 225 index fell 0.1 percent to 11,395.16. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was down 0.1 percent to 23,352.91. South Korea's Kospi rose 0.3 percent to 1,987.53. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 5,071.60.

Some investors remained on the sidelines, waiting for Japan to announce the next head of its central bank to replace Bank of Japan Gov. Masaaki Shirikawa, who will leave the post in April. Analysts at DBS Bank in Singapore said they expect an announcement before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets President Barack Obama on Feb. 22 in Washington.

Abe, elected on promises of bold action to ignite the moribund Japanese economy, is likely to appoint someone with views in line with the program he is championing. One element of the program includes a target of 2 percent inflation to reverse two decades of falling prices, which hurts growth. He also favors a weaker yen.

Japanese stocks have soared in recent weeks as the yen has fallen in anticipation of steps that would push the currency lower.

In mainland China, meanwhile, retail sales during the Lunar Year Holiday last week grew by 14.7 percent, a slowdown from 16.2 percent growth in the same period last year. The Chinese government also said food and beverage sales grew moderately.

"The moderate growth likely reflects the government's drive to reduce lavish government receptions and banquets, as high-end food and liquor registered sales decline," said analysts at Citi Research in Hong Kong.

Jewelry sales rose sharply because Valentine's Day fell during the Chinese New Year, analysts said. Hong Kong-listed Chow Tai Fook Jewellry Group rose 1.2 percent. Emperor Watch & Jewellry added 1.1 percent.

Benchmark oil for March delivery was down 19 cents to $95.67 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 17 cents to $95.69 on the Nymex on Monday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3345 from $1.3358 late Monday in Asia. The dollar fell to 93.79 yen from 94.05 yen.