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Asian stock markets lower after Fed affirms on track for rate hike, ECB meeting eyed

TOKYO – Asian stocks were mostly lower Thursday after the U.S. Federal Reserve chief indicated the central bank is on track for an interest rate hike this month and a slide in oil prices hit energy companies.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 inched down 0.2 per cent to 19,894.84 and South Korea’s Kospi fell 1 per cent to 1,990.17. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.4 per cent to 22,388.16 while the Shanghai Composite gained 0.5 per cent to 3,554.51. Other regional markets were also mostly lower, falling in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

FED ACTION: Investors are weighing the prospects that the Fed will raise rates for the first time in nine years at its next policy meeting in mid-December. In comments Wednesday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen gave an upbeat assessment of the economy’s progress since the Fed’s last meeting in October, describing it as in line with its expectations for the labour market and inflation. She also was careful to point out the need to review upcoming data, including the U.S. jobs report Friday.

EYES ON EUROPE: The European Central Bank is moving in the opposite direction of the Fed and is expected to expand its stimulus program when policymakers meet on Thursday. It will either expand its bond purchases or cut interest rates further. ECB head Mario Draghi signalled that action is coming this week as the bank seeks to support growth and push inflation higher.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was up 18 cents to $40.12 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after slipping below the $40 mark the day before. The futures contract dropped $1.91, or 4.6 per cent, to $39.94 a barrel in New York on Wednesday. Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international oils, was up 23 cents to $42.72 a barrel in London. It fell $1.95, or 4.4 per cent, to $42.49 the previous day.

WALL STREET: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 158.67 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 17,729.68 on Wednesday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 23.12 points, or 1.1 per cent, to 2,079.51 and the Nasdaq composite lost 33.08 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 5,123.22.

CURRENCIES: The U.S. dollar strengthened to 123.34 yen from its previous close of 123.27 yen. The euro slipped to $1.0594 from $1.0607.

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