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

MUMBAI, India – Asian stocks markets were muted Friday as investors continued to fret that the U.S. Federal Reserve bank will begin cutting its stimulus as soon as January.

Japan’s Nikkei 225, the regional heavyweight, fell 1.2 per cent to 14,155.81, weighed down by Sony Corp. stocks losing 12 per cent after the electronics and entertainment giant reported a 19.3 billion yen ($196 million) quarterly loss.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 0.1 per cent at 23,190.05 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.2 per cent to 5,418.10. Markets in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia also fell. Seoul’s Kospi added 0.3 per cent to 2,035.95.

India’s Sensex index reached an all-time high of 21,234.35, up 0.3 per cent, led by information technology, auto and pharmaceutical stocks.

Worries about future moves in U.S. monetary policy tamped down most Asian stock markets Friday. The Fed’s announcement this week that it would maintain its $85 billion monthly bond purchasing scheme was widely expected.

But the bank’s economic outlook was rosier than anticipated and could indicate that it will begin to reduce those purchases soon, which have been aimed at keeping interest rates low to support economic recovery. The U.S. central bank’s cheap money policy has underpinned stock markets worldwide for several years

The Fed 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.

On Wall Street, The Dow lost 73.01 points, or 0.5 per cent, to close at 15,545.75. The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 6.77 points, 0.4 per cent, to 1,756.54.

The Nasdaq composite dropped 10.91 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 3,919.71.

Benchmark U.S. crude for December delivery was down 2 cents at $96.36 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped 39 cents to close $96.38 on Thursday.

In currency trading, the euro was down at $1.3555 from $1.3586 late Thursday. The dollar fell to 97.92 yen from 98.31 yen.