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Asia stocks extend losses after big sell-off

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

A man walks past an electronic stock indicator showing the Nikkei 225 index which nosedived 1,143.28 points, or 7.3 percent to close at 14,483.98 in Tokyo Thursday, May 23, 2013. Japanese stocks plummeted Thursday after a spike in government bond yields and unexpectedly weak Chinese manufacturing spooked investors sitting atop months of massive gains in share prices. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stocks continued to retreat Friday after being routed the day before by unexpectedly weak Chinese manufacturing and fears the Federal Reserve will start withdrawing its monetary stimulus.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index, which plummeted more than 7 percent Thursday, reversed a big morning gain and shed 0.7 percent to 14,391.74 as the yen strengthened against the dollar. South Korea's Kospi gained 0.1 percent to 1,971.23.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng spent the morning bobbing between slight gains and losses before falling 0.5 percent to 22,553.60. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 tumbled 1.7 percent to 4,976, hit by losses in banking and mining shares. Benchmarks in the Philippines, Taiwan and New Zealand also fell.

The Nikkei's dramatic fall Thursday was attributed on the spike in the interest rate on the country's benchmark 10-year bond to above 1 percent for the first time in a year, which came after Fed meeting minutes showed some of its policy makers want the U.S. central bank to start scaling back its monetary stimulus.

The swing in Japanese bonds unnerved investors at a time when Japan's already overburdened government finances are vulnerable to rises in interest rates. The interest rate, or yield, later slipped back to about 0.9 percent.

The sell-off is a reminder of Japan's vulnerability as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tries to end two decades of stagnation with unprecedented monetary easing, increased government spending and reforms to make the world's No. 3 economy more competitive.

Abe reassured Japan's parliament Friday that the government was closely monitoring financial markets and would "proceed with measures to secure sustainable fiscal structure, and secure market confidence."

Mixed messages from the Federal Reserve about when it might start scaling back its bond-buying program also stirred investor anxiety.

The Fed is buying $85 billion worth of bonds every month as part of its stimulus program. That has kept interest rates low and encouraged investors to put money into stocks and other risky assets. If the Fed slows down its bond purchases, investors fear it could lead to an outpouring of money from stocks.

Among individual stocks, Australia's Westpac Banking tumbled 2.2 percent while market heavyweight Commonwealth Bank of Australia declined 1.6 percent.

The release Thursday by HSBC of a survey showing a decline in Chinese manufacturing for May hurt Australian miners, which have boomed on the back of raw material demand from the world's No. 2 economy. Mining giant BHP Billiton fell 1.6 percent. OZ Minerals lost 0.7 percent.

"The China data looking like it's hitting a soft patch is hitting resources," said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG in Melbourne.

Benchmark oil for July delivery was down 43 cents to $93.82 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 3 cents to close at $94.25 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2922 from $1.2932 late Thursday in New York. The dollar weakened to 101.62 yen from 101.91 yen.


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