Asian stock markets struggle to post gains as traders await signals from Federal Reserve

BANGKOK – Asian stock markets struggled to post gains Tuesday as investors waited for the U.S. Federal Reserve to telegraph what it plans to do next with its economic stimulus program.

The Fed is currently conducting the third round of massive bond purchases known as quantitative easing to help drive down interest rates and spur lending. But recently improving data on the U.S. economy has led to speculation that the Fed might consider scaling back the program or winding it down earlier than expected.

On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will appear before Congress and the central bank’s will release minutes of its most recent policy meeting.

“When markets are this elevated, with US markets at record levels, investors generally look for any excuse to exercise caution,” said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index was marginally higher at 15,369.13. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.3 per cent to 23,427.07. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.7 per cent to 5,174.80.

South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.2 per cent to 1,979. Benchmarks in Singapore and New Zealand fell, while those in Taiwan and Indonesia rose. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed.

On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.1 per cent to close at 15,335.28. The Standard & Poor’s 500 dropped 0.1 per cent to 1,666.29. Still, both stock indexes are near their record highs. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.1 per cent, to 3,496.43.

Benchmark oil for June delivery was up 14 cents to $96.85 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 69 cents to close at $96.71 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Monday.

In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2888 from $1.2897 late Monday in New York. The dollar rose to 102.50 yen from 102.29 yen.


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