(ATTN: UPDATES with final figure in 4th para; ADDS bond yields at bottom, photo)
SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korean stocks finished higher Wednesday amid lingering uncertainty over higher inflation and combative monetary tightening in major economies. The Korean won gained ground against the U.S. dollar.
After choppy trading, the benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) added 5.54 points, or 0.21 percent, to close at 2,625.98.
Trading volume was moderate at about 813 million shares worth some 9.39 trillion won (US$7.4 billion), with losers outnumbering gainers 504 to 339.
Institutions shed about a net 342 billion won worth of shares, while foreigners bought 290 billion won and retail investors snapped up 26 billion won in net value.
The market rose at the opening, boosted by Wall Street gains.
Overnight, U.S. stocks ended higher on a rally in tech stocks following strong retail sales and industrial production data, shaking off Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell's hawkish remarks.
Powell said the Fed was prepared to act aggressively to bring down the highest inflation in four decades, while trying to stave off a recession.
"If that involves moving past broadly understood levels of neutral, we won't hesitate to do that," he said in a livestreamed interview by The Wall Street Journal.
The S&P500 rose 2.02 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite went up 2.76 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 1.34 percent.
"The U.S. market rallied not because of a particular event but because of bargain hunting with solid economic data," Na Jeong-hwan from Cape Investment & Securities said.
"The KOSPI won't be able to sustain its rising trend, as investors could begin a sell-off to cash in at a certain level."
In Seoul, large-cap stocks closed mostly higher.
Market bellwether Samsung Electronics added 0.74 percent to 68,100 won, and No. 2 chipmaker SK hynix rose 0.89 percent to 113,500 won. Major battery maker LG Energy Solution went up 0.37 percent to 410,000 won, and Samsung Biologics jumped 3.52 percent to close at 793,000 won.
Kakao, the operator of popular mobile messenger Kakao Talk, lost 0.72 percent to 82,600 won.
The local currency closed at 1,266.60 won against the dollar, up 8.40 won from the previous session's close.
Bond prices, which move inversely to yields, closed mostly lower. The yield on three-year Treasurys gained 3.8 basis points to 3.069 percent, and the return on the benchmark five-year government bond added 3.9 basis points to 3.269 percent.