Seoul shares flat, corporate earnings and U.S. jobs in focus
* State-run utilities, Solar energy companies rise
* Grim 4Q outlook brings down Kumho Petro, Lotte Chemical
SEOUL Jan 9 (Reuters) - Seoul shares were little changed on Thursday morning as cautious sentiment prevailed before U.S. nonfarm payrolls data and corporate earnings results, muting the rate decision by the South Korean central bank on options expiry day.
The Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) was up 0.03 percent at 1,959.48 points as of 0237 GMT.
"Internally, with the dollar/won and yen/won exchange rates somewhat stabilising, grim corporate earnings outlook is left as a downside pressure," said Ko Seung-hee, a market analyst at SK Securities. "Externally, it has to be U.S. jobs data due late Friday, as it is an indicator on predicting the Federal Reserve's tapering pace.
South Korea's central bank kept interest rates steady for an eighth straight month on Thursday, standing back to monitor the effects of the Federal Reserve's stimulus tapering and the weakening of the Japanese yen.
State-run utilities company Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) and Korea Gas Corp rose 3 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively, on an improved earnings outlook following a utility price increase.
Price rises in polysilicon lifted solar energy companies on hopes of better earnings prospects, with OCI Co Ltd advancing 3.6 percent and Hanwha Chemical gaining 3.3 percent.
Meanwhile, jitters about weak fourth quarter earnings continued to spook investors, with Kumho Petro Chemical Co Ltd and Lotte Chemical Corp tumbling 5 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.
Foreign investors are set to be net buyers for a fourth straight session, picking up a net 6.2 billion won ($5.8 million) worth of KOSPI shares near the mid-session.
Advancers outnumbered decliners 390 to 362.
The KOSPI 200 benchmark of core stocks was unchanged, while the junior KOSDAQ edged 0.2 percent higher.