Asian stocks down ahead of US data, Fed speeches

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks fell Monday as investors looked ahead to this week's public appearances by the U.S. Federal Reserve chief for signs of whether the central bank will raise interest rates this month.

KEEPING SCORE: China's Shanghai Composite Index declined 1.4 percent to 3,388.14, adding to Friday's 5.5 percent fall. Japan's Nikkei 225 lost 0.4 percent 19,807.43 and South Korea's Kospi shed 1.7 percent to 1,995.35. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 0.2 percent to 22,019.74 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 retreated 0.6 percent to 5,171.00. Singapore and New Zealand advanced while Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia retreated.

FED SPEECH: Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen is due to deliver a speech Wednesday and congressional testimony Thursday in which financial analysts expect her to affirm the view that the U.S. economy is improving enough that the Fed can raise interest rates. Rates at near zero since the 2008 global crisis have helped boost stock prices. Fed officials have indicated they are likely to approve a rate hike at their Dec. 15-16 meeting. Yellen has said further increases will be gradual. Investors are looking ahead to a flurry of U.S. data this week: housing sales on Monday, manufacturing on Tuesday, jobs on Wednesday and Thursday and trade on Friday.

ANALYST'S TAKE: "At this point the presumption is that tightening is about to begin, even if this week's slew of important data are weaker than expected," said Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics in a report. "Indeed, Fed Chair Yellen is not even waiting for this week's employment report before giving what we expect will be the clearest signal to date that the start of tightening is imminent," said O'Sullivan. "We expect she will emphasize cumulative improvement in the labor market, downplaying the importance of a single monthly reading."

CHINA: The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index fell 5.5 percent on Friday, which was its biggest one-day decline in three months, after two major brokerages announced they were under investigation by regulators. Investors also pulled back in preparation for a resumption in initial public offerings following a moratorium imposed in July to stem a plunge in stock prices.

WALL STREET: The Standard & Poor's 500 ended up under 0.1 percent on Friday, boosted by gains for telecommunications and financial stocks. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.1 percent and the Nasdaq composite added 0.2 percent. The Dow was dragged down by Disney, which fell after the company said ESPN lost 3 million subscribers in the last year. Oil prices slumped, hurting energy stocks.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude was up 10 cents to $41.81 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract plunged $1.33 on Friday to close at $41.71. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 6 cents to $44.80 per barrel in London. It fell 60 cents on Friday to $44.86.

CURRENCIES: The dollar declined to 122.73 yen from Friday's 122.76. The euro edged down to $1.0584 from $1.0593.