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Asia stock markets down after US retail sales ease

Youkyung Lee, AP Business Writer

An investor gestures at a private securities company on Monday July 15, 2013 in Shanghai, China. Asian stock markets posted modest gains Monday, registering relief that a slowdown in China's economic growth wasn't as sharp as feared. (AP Photo)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Weaker-than-expected U.S. retail sales sent most Asian stock markets lower Tuesday as investors awaited congressional testimony from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke later in the week.

Growth in U.S. retail sales eased to 0.4 percent in June from 0.5 percent the previous month. Americans bought more cars and trucks, furniture and clothes, but they cut back on many other purchases in a mixed sign for economic growth.

South Korea's Kospi fell 0.5 percent to 1,866.36 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 0.2 percent at 21,345.12. China's Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.1 percent to 2,058.31. Markets in Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, India and New Zealand also fell. But Japan's Nikkei 225 added 0.6 percent to 14,599.12.

Apart from doubt about the strength of consumer spending, which is a mainstay of the U.S. economy, an upcoming speech by Bernanke provided another reason for investors to hold back from stocks.

Investors will be looking for more clues about the central bank's commitment to its stimulus program and its outlook for the U.S. economy when Bernanke speaks to Congress on Wednesday.

Markets have largely shrugged off the latest evidence of China's economic slowdown. Beijing said Monday that the world's second-largest economy slowed to 7.5 percent growth in the second quarter from 7.7 percent in the previous quarter. But investors who feared below-7 percent growth were relieved.

In the U.S., stocks closed higher on Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 19.96 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 15,484.26. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.31 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,682.50. Both the Dow and S&P are at all-time highs. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite rose 7.41 points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,607.49.

In energy trading, benchmark crude for August delivery was down 20 cents at $106.12 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 37 cents to $106.32 on Monday.

The euro rose to $1.3079 from $1.3054. The dollar fell to 99.92 yen from 100.01 yen.