By Ese Erheriene

Australian stocks fall back after contentious call between country's leader and Trump

Investors showed fresh concern Thursday, buying gold and the yen while selling equities amid an apparent refocusing on worries about President Donald Trump's administration.

Japanese stocks were sold off throughout the afternoon as the yen climbed against the U.S. dollar, moving below Yen112.50. The Nikkei Stock Average ended down 1.2% at 18,914.58.

Equities declines occurred elsewhere in Asia, with indexes in Korea and Taiwan giving up early advances to fall 0.5% and 0.2%, respectively. Meanwhile, gold was approaching 1% gains as futures prices moved back up from around $1,200 per troy ounce.

"The focus [is] again on Trump and all his new executive orders," said Tareck Horchani, deputy head of Asia-Pacific sales trading at Saxo Markets. "Stocks have reacted quite negatively."

In recent weeks, investors have pinballed from cheerful to concerned as risk appetite waxed and waned. The week started with equities in the red amid political uncertainty around the proposal by the U.S. government to restrict immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, but the mood became more upbeat, helped by solid economic data out of the U.S., China and Europe.

That optimism faded as Thursday's trading progressed.

Australia stocks gave up early strength, with the S&P/ASX 200 finishing down 0.1% amid reports of a contentious phone call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Trump reportedly blasted a deal crafted with former U.S. President Barack Obama, in which the U.S. agreed to refugees from Australia.

"Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!" Trump said in a tweet.

Earlier, Australia said it had a record trade surplus in December. That helped send the Australian dollar up nearly 1% versus the U.S. dollar.

Asian shares were mixed Thursday in muted trade. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was up 0.1%, while Korea's Kospi added 0.3% and the Hang Seng Index rose 0.1%.

Tech stocks were a highlight, especially in Taiwan as stocks there traded Thursday for the first time since Apple's (AAPL) quarterly report earlier this week. Hon Hai Precision Industry (2317.TW) closed up 0.5% and Foxconn Technology (2354.TW) gained 0.8%.

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(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 02, 2017 10:18 ET (15:18 GMT)

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