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Asia stocks fall as focus stays on Fed's next step

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

An investor speaks to another at a private securities company Tuesday, June 4, 2013, in Shanghai, China. Asian stock markets were volatile Tuesday after a report showed manufacturing activity in the U.S. fell to its lowest level in four years. Losses were limited, however, because investors believe negative reports make it more likely for the Federal Reserve to stick with its economic stimulus programs. (AP Photo)

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets fell Wednesday as signs the U.S. Federal Reserve might scale back its super-loose monetary policy caused investors to trim equity investments.

Comments from Fed official Esther George, who said Tuesday she supported slowing the pace of Fed bond purchases "as an appropriate next step," raised expectations that the central bank might start winding down its aggressive purchases of government bonds.

The Fed's program is a big plus for stock markets: Some $85 billion a month in purchases have helped keep interest rates low and caused investors to shift out of bonds and into stocks.

"People are afraid that the Fed will start to withdraw from the market soon," said Francis Lun, chief economist at GE Oriental Financial Group in Hong Kong. "The flood of liquidity will start to dry up. Then the money will start to flow out of Asia. That is the fear."

Japan's Nikkei 225 index tumbled 1.8 percent to 13,295.89, registering disappointment with a lack of detail in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's unveiling of the third plank of his so-called Abenomics program intended to rouse a long-stagnant economy.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 1 percent 22,048.84. South Korea's Kospi fell 1.1 percent to 1,968.52. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dropped 1 percent. Benchmarks in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines fell. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed.

Australian banking shares fell amid a sell-off spurred by profit-taking, analysts said. Australia & New Zealand Banking Group fell 1.6 percent. Westpac Banking Corp. lost 2.3 percent. Japanese vehicle exporters withered under a strengthening yen, which raises the prices of products sold overseas. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. sank 4.5 percent. Yamaha Motor Co. was 4.7 percent down.

Analysts were preaching caution ahead of May data on U.S. service industries, which are the largest component of the economy by far.

DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said an improvement in the Institute for Supply Management's service sector index would be surprising, especially in light of this week's manufacturing report that showed U.S. factory output contracting in May.

"The manufacturing measure has fallen three months in a row. The service sector version is steadier and slower moving but it doesn't typically buck the trend," DBS analysts said in a market commentary.

Most important will be Friday's jobs report for May. The figures are usually the U.S. economic release with the greatest market impact.

It's also a big week in Europe, with the European Central Bank meeting to discuss the region's ailing economy and whether anything more needs to be done to get it growing again. The latest expectation in the markets is that the ECB will refrain from announcing any big new measures Thursday.

Benchmark oil for July delivery was up 41 cents to $93.72 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 14 cents to $93.31 a barrel on Tuesday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3087 from $1.3082 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell to 99.67 yen from 100.05 yen.


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