#UK Asian stock markets uneven as economic data weighed


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian stock markets were uneven Wednesday after weakness in U.S. economic data was tempered by an upbeat Australian growth report.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 was down 0.2 percent to 19,969.02 and South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.4 percent to 2,016.41. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 edged down 0.1 percent to 5,259.90. The Shanghai Composite Index added 0.4 percent to 3,468.32 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.3 percent to 22,441.55. Markets in Southeast Asia were mixed.

MIXED DATA: U.S. factory activity dropped last month to the lowest level since June 2009, the Institute for Supply Management said, as a strong dollar and low oil prices cut new orders and hurt production. But in Asia, other economic data encouraged investors. Australia reported a better-than-expected growth rate for the third quarter. Its economy expanded 2.5 percent during the three-month period from over a year earlier.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Despite the strong performance of U.S. equities, Asian markets got off to a rocky start,” Angus Nicholson, a market analyst at IG, said in a report. He said the weak U.S. factory data “threw some questions up around the inevitability of the December Fed rate hike” but Australia’s growth numbers helped markets reduce their losses.

US RATES: Investors are keyed into Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen’s speech set for Wednesday, as well as the November jobs report, scheduled to be released on Friday, which comes shortly before the Fed’s two-day policy meeting. Unless the November employment figures are extraordinarily weak, investors believe the Fed will raise interest rates from a record low this month for the first time since the financial crisis.

EUROPE STIMULUS: Investors expect the European Central Bank will expand its stimulus program when policymakers meet on Thursday, either by extending its bond-buying program beyond the current end date of September 2016 or by increasing the purchase amount. Investors are also expecting an interest rate cut. ECB head Mario Draghi signaled that action is coming this week as the bank seeks to support growth and push inflation higher.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks closed higher on the first day of December, helped by financial stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 168.43 points, or 1 percent, to 17,888.35. The Standard & Poor’s 500 rose 22.22 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,102.63 and the Nasdaq composite rose 47.64 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,156.31.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was down 27 cents to $41.58 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract closed up 20 cents at $41.85 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, which is used to price oil internationally, lost 20 cents to $44.24 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The U.S. dollar strengthened to 123.06 yen from its previous close of 122.90 yen. The euro slipped to $1.0613 from $1.0629.

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