BANGKOK (AP) -- World stock markets tumbled Thursday after U.S. Federal Reserve minutes gave investors an unwelcome reminder that super-easy monetary policy has an expiration date.
Transcripts from the Fed's latest meeting, released Wednesday, showed some policymakers are worried that the bank's $85 billion in bond purchases each month, which are designed to boost the sluggish U.S. economic recovery, could eventually unsettle financial markets or cause the central bank to take losses.
European stocks sank in early trading. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.4 percent to 6,304.17. Germany's DAX lost 1.4 percent to 7,621.34. France's CAC-40 shed 1.5 percent to 3,654.01.
Wall Street also looked set for losses. Dow Jones industrial futures declined 0.3 percent to 13,847 and S&P 500 futures lost 0.3 percent to 1,502.50.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 fell 1.4 percent to 11,309.13. Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled 1.7 percent to 22,906.67. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 2.3 percent to 4,980.10. South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.5 percent to 2,015.22. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, and New Zealand also fell.
In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index plummeted 3 percent to 2,325.95. It was the index's biggest loss in almost 15 months. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index shed 2 percent to 950.01.
The signs of disagreement at the Fed turned investor sentiment negative, analysts said, throwing into question how long the U.S. central bank's bond buying will last.
"The market is feeling pretty skittish, and anything like that is likely to cause some concerns," said Andrew Sullivan, a trader at Kim Eng Securities in Hong Kong. "It's one of the first signals that the Fed's mood is changing from one of being very accommodative with easy money to start thinking about, 'This isn't going to go on forever.' "
By buying bonds, the Fed drives up their prices and lowers interest rates, which have stayed at record lows. That keeps costs low for mortgages and other types of loans. This approach to monetary policy is known as quantitative easing.
Investors also turned cautious after being disappointed by a dip in U.S. housing starts. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that builders started work at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 890,000 homes last month. That was down 8.5 percent from December.
Drops in commodities prices led resource stocks lower. Hong Kong-listed Zijin Mining Group, China's largest gold miner, fell 3.3 percent. Jiangxi Copper Co. lost 3.2 percent. BHP Billiton, the Australian-based mining giant, fell 3.8 percent.
Benchmark oil for April delivery was down $1.56 to $93.66 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost $1.88, or 2 percent, to finish at $95.22 on the Nymex on Tuesday.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3198 from $1.3281 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 93.31 yen from 93.81 yen.
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