Asian markets mostly lower after upbeat US data


A man walks past the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) building in Mumbai December 5, 2013. Photo - Reuters

Asian markets mostly fell on Friday after better-than-forecast US growth data added to expectations the Federal Reserve will start to wind down its stimulus programme as early as this month.

But while the strong figures raise the likelihood the central bank will ease up on its bond-buying, the dollar managed to only edge up against the yen.

Tokyo rose 0.81 percent, or 122.37 points, to 15,299.86 on bargain buying after losing more than 3.5 percent in the previous two sessions, while the weaker yen provided some support. And in the afternoon Hong Kong was 0.26 percent higher.

But Sydney lost 0.23 percent, or 12.0 points, to end at 5,186.0 and Seoul was 0.22 percent lower, giving up 4.36 points to close at 1,980.41. Shanghai was 0.61 percent down in late trade.

Investors followed the lead of their counterparts on Wall Street after the Commerce Department reported the US economy grew 3.6 percent in the third quarter, far above the 3.0 percent predicted by analysts.

Also Thursday, the Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits, a sign of the pace of layoffs, fell below 300,000 last week.

The figures are the latest pointing to a pick-up in the world's top economy, raising the prospect of the Fed cutting its monetary easing scheme this month instead of early next year as previously flagged by analysts.

The bond-buying programme has been credited with fuelling a global equities rally since being unveiled in September last year.

Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank, said: "The market is taking good news as bad news.
"Investors are fearful of Fed policy and are shifting their beliefs on the timing of tapering."

On Wall Street, the Dow fell 0.43 percent and the S&P 500 shed 0.43 percent. Both indexes have now lost for five consecutive sessions after hitting new highs last week. The Nasdaq eased 0.12 percent.

"Some caution has emerged in anticipation of the potential (Fed policy committee) move," said Yoshihiro Okumura, general manager of research at Chibagin Asset Management.

"Previously, markets speculated the Fed will start tapering in March. We cannot rule out the possibility of seeing that in December," Okumura said.

Despite traders betting on an end to the stimulus -- which would tend to boost the dollar as the Fed stops printing as much cash -- the greenback was subdued in forex trade in Asia.

During afternoon trade it bought 102.10 yen, compared with 101.77 yen in New York but still well down from the levels around 103.50 seen earlier in the week.

The euro fetched $1.3661 and 139.49 yen against $1.3666 and 139.08 yen.

In Sydney, Qantas ended 3.7 percent lower as it resumed trading after a halt that was called ahead of an announcement by credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's that it had downgraded the airline to junk status after the flag-carrier's profit-warning on Thursday.

The airline said it expected a half-year loss of up to Aus$300 million (US$271 million) and would axe 1,000 jobs as it struggles under the weight of record fuel costs and fierce competition from subsidised rivals.

Its shares lost a tenth of their value on Thursday while another ratings agency, Moody's, put its investment grade on review for a possible cut.

On oil markets New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for January delivery, was up one cent at $97.39 in afternoon trade while Brent North Sea crude for January rose 31 cents to $111.29.

Gold fetched $1,228.28 per ounce at 0700 GMT compared with $1,234.54 on Thursday.

In other markets:
-- Taipei was flat, edging down 7.82 points to 8,367.72.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. fell 0.96 percent to Tw$103.0 while smartphone maker HTC rose 0.34 percent to Tw$147.5.
-- Wellington eased 0.14 percent, or 6.43 points, to 4,713.52.
Meridian Energy added 2.8 percent to NZ$0.92 and Contact Energy rose 3.6 percent to NZ$4.90 but Fletcher Building was 1.21 percent off at NZ$8.97 and Telecom slipped 0.65 percent at NZ$2.29.

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