Asian stock markets muted as Fed meeting awaited after Wall Street grinds out new high

MANILA, Philippines – Asian stock markets were mostly lower Tuesday as investors waited for a U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting this week for clues about when the central bank will begin reducing its monetary stimulus.

Gains in global stock markets have been underwritten for several years by the Fed’s mammoth expansion of the U.S. money supply. But as the world’s biggest economy slowly recovers from the 2009 recession, the Fed is expected to start scaling down its purchases of government bonds and mortgage securities that total $85 billion a month.

Markets had previously expected the withdrawal of stimulus to begin this year but expectations have shifted to next year as the pace of improvement in the U.S. economy waned. The wording of the Fed’s statement this week will be scrutinized for any new indications about when that process will begin. Any hints of change could roil markets.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 was down 0.3 per cent at 14,349.75 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.1 per cent to 22,775.97.

Indexes in South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia were also down.

China’s Shanghai Composite fell 1 per cent to 2,111.13.

Andrew Sullivan of Kim Eng Securities in Hong Kong said news that China’s housing ministry is likely to bring more real estate into the market by 2014 prompted concerns about the valuations of property companies, offsetting relief that China’s central bank had resumed injecting funds into money markets. Earlier there were fears a credit crunch could slow China’s economic recovery.

Sullivan said investors are generally trading cautiously to lock in gains before the year ends.

“People are much more concerned about locking in the gains at highest rather than necessarily risking losing them in the last month,” he said.

On Wall Street, the Standard & Poor’s 500 closed at an all-time high Monday, but by a small margin. The index edged up 2.34 points, or 0.1 per cent, to a record 1,762.11 after news about improving sales at J.C. Penney offset disappointing earnings from some U.S. companies.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 1.35 points, or less than 0.1 per cent, to 15,568.93. The Nasdaq composite closed down 3.23 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 3,940.13.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for December delivery was down 24 cents at $98.44 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 83 cents to $98.68 on Monday.

The euro fell to $1.3775 from $1.3786 late Monday. The dollar fell to 97.54 yen from 97.66 yen.