Asian stock markets lost some of their bottle Tuesday as efforts by U.S. leaders to reach a budget deal before the year's end appeared deadlocked and fears lingered that a leadership change in Italy could derail Europe's efforts to tackle its financial crisis.
Markets in Asia appeared to take in stride news that HSBC, the British banking giant, will pay $1.9 billion to settle a money-laundering probe by federal and state authorities in the United States. HSBC shares rose 0.4 percent in Hong Kong.
Investors got a slight jolt after Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who has been credited with restoring confidence in Italy's economy, announced he will resign by year's end. Monti said over the weekend that he found it impossible to lead after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, Parliament's largest, dropped its support for the government.
Analysts fear Monti's unexpected resignation could spark a new round of Italian political turmoil and slow efforts to get the 17-country eurozone's third largest economy back in shape.
Investors, meanwhile, are growing anxious as talks drag on between President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers over a way to avoid the "fiscal cliff," a series of tax hikes and spending cuts that will come into effect Jan. 1 if no agreement is in place to cut the budget deficit.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.4 percent to 9,492.36. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.4 percent to 22,373.05 while South Korea's Kospi rose marginally to 1,958.49. The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.6 percent to 2,071.89. Stocks in Australia, Singapore and New Zealand rose.
Stocks inched higher on Wall Street after a strong sales report by McDonald's boosted confidence in the consumer spending in the world's largest economy.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent to 13,169.88. The S&P rose 0.03 percent to 1,418.55. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.3 percent to 2,986.96.
Benchmark oil for January delivery was up 5 cents to $85.61 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 37 cents to finish at $85.56 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.
In currencies, the euro was little changed at $1.294 from $1.2938 in New York on Monday. The dollar rose to 82.40 yen from 82.33 yen.
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