Asian stock markets were choppy Wednesday as traders waited for hints from the U.S central bank about when it will begin to reduce its massive stimulus effort.
Investors will be scrutinizing the minutes of the Federal Reserve's July policy meeting when they are published later Wednesday. The bank currently buys $85 billion a month in government securities in order to help keep interest rates down and spur borrowing and investment. Improvement in the U.S. economy has raised expectations the Fed will begin reducing its monetary stimulus next month.
Global markets have been shaky this week as traders, worried about a pullback in bond purchases, began dumping bonds. That sent prices lower and yields sharply higher. Money has also flowed out of emerging stock markets, sending the currencies of countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and India sharply lower. However, U.S. bond yields pulled back Tuesday, bringing relief to investors worried about higher interest rates.
"We continue to see some disjointed moves in global markets as we head into the business end of the week. US treasury yields finally cooled and this helped US equities break their losing streak," said Stan Shamu of IG in Melbourne, Australia.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.8 percent to 13,290.05. South Korea's Kospi fell 1.1 percent to 1,867.59. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 1.3 percent to 21,691.84.
Among individual stocks, Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant, plunged 9.1 percent after acknowledging that a massive volume of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 percent to 5,093. Gains by bank stocks helped offset losses by BHP Billiton, which fell 2.3 percent after the mining giant said its full-year profit fell by nearly 30 percent. National Australia Bank rose 1.6 percent.
Indonesia's benchmark index edged up 0.2 percent after dropping a total of more than 8 percent on Monday and Tuesday. Analysts said investors were pulling money out of emerging markets such as Indonesia in anticipation of a change in U.S. monetary policy.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average fell marginally to 15,002.99 on Tuesday. The S&P 500 added 0.4 percent, to 1,652.35. The Nasdaq rose 0.7 percent to 3,613.59.
Benchmark oil for October delivery was down 16 cents to $104.96 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $2.14 to close at $104.96 on the Nymex on Tuesday.
In currencies, the dollar rose to 97.36 yen from 97.21 yen late Tuesday. The euro was steady at $1.3419.
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