Asia stocks edge up ahead of Fed chief's speech

Asia stocks mostly up as hopes grow for stimulus measures by the US Federal Reserve

Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- World stock markets were mostly lower Wednesday, as investors remained largely on the sidelines ahead of a key speech by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke that might yield clues about future actions to spur economic growth in the world's No. 1 economy.

Analysts downplayed moderate market gains in some countries including South Korea, as markets were swayed by big stocks amid light trading.

Cho Byung-hyun, an analyst at Tong Yang Securities in Seoul said that investors and traders are fixated on Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech, to be delivered Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Investors will watch carefully for clues about the central bank's intentions to try to speed up the U.S. economic recovery.

"Investor expectations are mixed about the Friday speech. There are hopes for another round of stimulus by the Fed and also uncertainty that they may not do it," said Cho.

European stocks fell in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 lost 0.4 percent to 5,750.60. Germany's DAX dropped 0.4 percent to 6,974.91. France's CAC-40 lost 0.4 percent to 3,418.50.

Wall Street futures also pointed to a lower open. Dow Jones industrial futures fell marginally to 13,079 while Standard and Poor's 500 futures were down nearly 0.1 percent to 1,406.70.

Stocks were mixed in Asia. The Tokyo Stock Exchange's benchmark Nikkei rose 0.4 percent to 9,069.81 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.6 percent to 1,928.54. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index turned 0.1 percent lower at 19,788.51. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost nearly 0.1 percent to 4,356.04.

Benchmarks in Singapore and Taiwan rose, while Indonesia and Thailand fell.

On mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index lost 1 percent to 2,053.24 — its lowest closing in more than three years. The Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.6 percent to 851.14.

"There is just no chance for the market when the economy is slowing down while no more positive policies being released. Investors are disappointed. I guess we have to wait for economic data in August to be released at the beginning of September to see if the economy has reached the bottom," said Li Jianfeng, an analyst at Caida Securities in Shanghai.

China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., lost 3.1 percent. Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Rare-Earth (Group) Hi-Tech Co., China's top rare earth producer, lost 6.6 percent.

A rally in tech exporters helped lead South Korean markets to a rebound. Samsung Electronics Co., the world's largest technology company by revenue, closed up 2.9 percent, as investors shrugged off shock from Apple's decisive patent victory in the U.S. last week that sent Samsung shares 7.5 percent lower on Monday.

Samsung vowed to appeal all the way to the highest court in the U.S., while Apple asked the court to block eight Samsung products in the U.S. for patent infringement. Samsung's smaller rival LG Electronics Inc. rose 4.4 percent after announcing a new smartphone.

Economic data released ahead of the annual speech by Federal Reserve chief sent mixed signals about the pace of the U.S. economic recovery. A Tuesday government report showed that U.S. house prices increased in all major U.S. cities in June, the latest sign that the housing market has been rebounding.

But on the downside, consumer confidence dropped to its lowest level since November 2011. The Conference Board said consumer confidence index fell to 60.6, down from 65.4 in July. Economists had expected a reading of 66.

Benchmark oil for October delivery fell 67 cents to $95.66 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 86 cents to finish at $96.33 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2561 from $1.2564 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell to 78.50 yen from 78.53 yen.

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AP researcher Fu Ting contributed from Shanghai.

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