Asia stock markets wallow as China property prices fall, Abe's next moves weighed

Asian stock markets were lacklustre Wednesday as investors digested a fall in Chinese home prices and Japan’s scramble to overcome its economic malaise.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 was little changed at 17,347.76. It gained 2.2 per cent the day before on news the government had delayed a second sales tax hike in response to the world’s third-largest economy slipping into recession. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.3 per cent to 23,469.31 and China’s Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.2 per cent to 2,451.23. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.5 per cent to 5,374.80. Markets rose in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia. Benchmarks in South Korea and Thailand fell.

JAPAN ECONOMY: After shelving a tax increase planned for next year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election for December to renew the mandate for his all-or-nothing “Abenomics” effort to end Japan’s two decades of economic stagnation. The economy’s slide into recession after April’s sales tax hike has underscored its fragility even as the government and Bank of Japan carry out unprecedented stimulus efforts.

THE QUOTE: “There is growing condemnation of Abenomics and whether its stated goals are achievable and whether the policy settings are correct,” said Evan Lucas, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia. “I remain convinced that whatever the outcome of the election, the BOJ will continue and even increase its stimulus program as will any Japanese government and, in turn, that will push equities higher.”

CHINA PROPERTY: Further softening in China’s property prices has pushed down stocks linked to iron ore, copper and steel. In October, house prices contracted in 69 of 70 cities tracked by the government and the drop overall was 2.6 per cent, figures released Monday showed. As property is a significant driver of growth in China, the weakness suggests its economic growth will continue to slow from the 7.3 per cent recorded last quarter.

WALL STREET: Investors remained in a record-setting mood Tuesday, edging the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 to their latest all-time highs. The S&P 500 added 10.48 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 2,051.80. Its previous closing high was set Monday. The Dow rose 40.07 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 17,687.82. The Nasdaq composite gained 31.44 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 4,702.44.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was down 28 cents to $74.31 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.03 to close at $74.61 on Tuesday. Brent crude was up 10 cents at $78.57 in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 117.26 yen from 117.12 yen late Tuesday. The euro fell to $1.2516 from $1.2523.