Asia stock markets decline amid inflation, oil price worries

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A man walks by an electronic stock board of a securities firm in Tokyo, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. Asian shares fell Wednesday, as worries about inflation set off expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve might raise interest rates.(AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Asian shares mostly fell Wednesday as worries about inflation set off expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve might move faster than anticipated to raise interest rates.

Japan's Nikkei 225 dropped 1.6% to finish at 29,302.66, following a national holiday Tuesday, as technology shares especially took a hit over the speculation about the Fed's moves. South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.1% to 2,993.80. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged down 0.2% to 7,399.40. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.6% to 24,788.50, while the Shanghai Composite edged up 0.2% to 3,594.45.

“Markets continue to shift their expectations toward a tighter Fed monetary policy," said Yeap Jun Rong, a market strategist at IG, adding that investors will be watching for U.S. data being released later in the day.

Some Asian central banks have already begun to raise interest rates to tamp down inflation. New Zealand's raised its benchmark interest rate by 0.25% Wednesday to 0.75%.

In October the Reserve Bank raised it from a record low 0.25% to 0.5%, the first such hike in more than seven years, removing some support it put in place when the coronavirus pandemic began.

The Fed will release minutes later in the day from its October policy meeting, potentially giving investors more details on the central bank’s plan to start trimming bond purchases that have helped keep interest rates low.

Investors have been watching to see if pressure from rising inflation will goad the Fed into speeding up its plans for trimming bond purchases and raising its benchmark interest rate.

Wall Street closed out a wobbly day of trading, as gains in banks and energy companies tempered losses elsewhere in the market. The S&P 500 managed to rise 0.2% to 4,690.70 after wavering between small gains and losses for much of the day.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.5% to 35,813.80, while the Nasdaq composite closed 0.5% lower, at 15,775.14. Small company stocks also lost ground. The Russell 2000 index fell 0.1% to 2,327.86.

The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury rose to 1.68% from 1.63% late Monday, but fell to 1.65% by midday Wednesday in Asia.

The price of U.S. crude oil rose 2.3% and wholesale gasoline rose 3.4% on Tuesday after President Joe Biden ordered 50 million barrels of oil released from the nation’s strategic reserve to help bring down energy costs. The move was made in concert with other big oil-consuming nations, including Japan.

Although Japan's overall data has not shown an inflation problem on the scale of other nations, critics say it's just not as blatantly visible, but clearly present in sectors slammed by soaring energy prices, from businesses that rely on fuel to plastic bags that are a petroleum product.

The release of the oil reserves may not necessarily bring down oil prices, but analysts say it may serve as a message to OPEC.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude rose 41 cents to $78.91 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, added 33 cents to $82.64 a barrel.

Stocks are likely to see more mixed trading this week, with U.S. markets closing on Thursday for Thanksgiving and then closing early on Friday.

Wall Street will get a few pieces of economic data on Wednesday that could give investors a better sense of the economic recovery's pace and breadth. The Labor Department will release its weekly report on unemployment benefits. The Commerce Department releases data on third-quarter gross domestic product and its new home sales report for October.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar fell to 114.99 Japanese yen from 115.10 yen. The euro cost $1.1241 down from $1.1254.


Associated Press writer Nick Perry contributed from Wellington, New Zealand.

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter