World stock markets muted by concern Fed may start reducing stimulus in January

MUMBAI, India – Asian and European stock markets were muted Friday despite an uptick in China’s manufacturing as investors continued to fret that the U.S. Federal Reserve will begin cutting its stimulus as soon as January.

Two measures of China’s manufacturing improved in October in a possible sign of economic recovery. China’s growth rebounded to 7.8 per cent in the three months ended September from the previous quarter’s two-decade low but there are doubts whether the improvement will continue over the remainder of the year.

Worries about less expansive U.S. monetary stimulus continued to preoccupy investors.

The Federal Reserve’s announcement this week that it would maintain its monthly bond purchases at $85 billion was widely expected. But the central bank no longer expressed concern, as it did in September, that higher mortgage rates could hold back hiring and economic growth. And its statement made no reference to the 16-day government shutdown, which economists say slowed growth this quarter. Some analysts said that suggests reduction of the stimulus could begin early next year.

The U.S. central bank’s cheap money policy is aimed at supporting economic recovery and has also underpinned stock markets worldwide for several years

Speculation about the timing of the reduction, known as tapering, will likely continue to roil markets in coming months, said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia.

“Despite it mattering very little whether tapering occurs in January or March, we are still likely to see a negative equity response.”

Germany’s DAX was down 0.2 per cent at 9,018.70 and France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.4 per cent to 4,283.11. Britain’s FTSE 100 was little changed at 6,730.07.

Futures augured gains on Wall Street. Dow and S&P 500 futures were both up 0.2 per cent.

Japan’s Nikkei 225, the regional heavyweight, fell 0.9 per cent to 14,201.57, weighed down by the dollar dipping below 98 yen and an 11 per cent plunge in Sony Corp. shares after it Thursday reported a 19.3 billion yen ($196 million) quarterly loss.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng crept up 0.2 per cent to 23,249.79 while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.4 per cent to 5,411.10. Markets in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia fell. Seoul’s Kospi added 0.5 per cent to 2,039.42.

The exception to a lacklustre Friday came in India’s stock market, where a modest gain was enough to push the Sensex index to a record high shortly after the opening bell — a comeback from a few months ago when the bourse plunged and the Indian rupee fell to a lifetime low as foreign investors withdrew amid a bout of worry about withdrawal of the Fed’s stimulus.

Much of that foreign money has returned now that the rupee has stabilized at a lower level, making Indian stocks a bargain.

“I think clearly the largest driver of the market high is foreign currency inflow,” said Rajiv Mehta, an analyst with IIFL Capital in Mumbai. “Many people seem to think the worst is over.”

Benchmark U.S. crude for December delivery was down 9 cents at $96.29 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract had dropped 39 cents to close $96.38 on Thursday.

In currency trading, the euro was down at $1.3530 from $1.3586 late Thursday. The dollar traded as low as 97.76 yen before climbing to 98.19 yen.