Asian markets mostly down ahead of outcome first Fed policy meeting under Yellen

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SEOUL, South Korea – Asian stock markets mostly drifted lower Wednesday ahead of the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s first policy meeting under its new chief.

The Asian heavyweight index, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225, was down 0.5 per cent at 14,335.81 and China’s Shanghai Composite Index sank 0.9 per cent to 2,007.97.

Other Asian markets were also muted. South Korea’s Kospi was down 0.2 per cent to 1,937.30 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.2 per cent to 21,549.49. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.1 per cent to 5,350.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is scheduled to issue a statement and hold a press conference Wednesday after the end of its two-day policy meeting. It is the central bank’s first policy meeting since Janet Yellen replaced Ben Bernanke as governor.

Most analysts expect the Fed to continue to reduce its monetary stimulus at the speed it has already set, trimming its monthly bond purchases by $10 billion. It is also expected to revise its economic forecasts.

In Europe and on Wall Street, stock markets were boosted Tuesday by relief over narrower-than-expected Western sanctions on Russia after its military intervention in Crimea and annexation of the Ukrainian region. Housing reports from the U.S. Commerce Department also underpinned investor sentiment.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 13.42 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 1,872.25 on Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 88.97 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 16,336.19. The Nasdaq composite climbed 53.36 points, or 1.3 per cent, to 4,333.31.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery declined 18 cents to $99.52 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.62 to $99.70 on Tuesday on expectations that the solid U.S. economic outlook would increase oil demand.

In currency markets, the euro fell to $1.3920 from $1.3933 late Tuesday. The dollar rose to 101.48 yen from 101.43 yen.

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