Asia stocks nearly flat ahead of Fed meeting

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Trader Benedict Willis, right, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. AP FILE PHOTO

BANGKOK — Asian stock markets ran into resistance Monday, ahead of a meeting by Federal Reserve policy makers who are expected to announce new plans to stimulate a sluggish U.S. economy in response to a disappointing jobs report.

The U.S. government reported Friday that 96,000 jobs were created in the U.S. last month, fewer than economists had forecast. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent, but only because many people gave up looking for work, so they were no longer counted as unemployed.

But market losses were kept in check, since investors now think the Fed might announce another round of bond-buying, known as quantitative easing, at its next meeting on Sept. 13 to help lower interest rates and thus boost loan growth.

“Risk rallies continued on hopes for further easing from the Fed,” analysts from Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a market commentary. “With soft U.S. jobs data, we expect that the FOMC will announce a new large-scale asset purchase programme at the meeting.”

South Korea’s Kospi was nearly unchanged at 1,929.59 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.1 percent to 19,819.86. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was flat at 4,326.10. Benchmarks in Taiwan, India and mainland China rose. Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines fell.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell less than 0.1 percent to 8,866.84 after the government said the economy grew at a slower pace than earlier estimated for the April-June quarter. Growth stood at an annual 0.7 percent, slower than the 1.4 percent given in August.

Fears of a global economic slowdown were compounded after China released trade data showing that imports shrank and export growth was muted in August. That came on top of the release over the weekend of data showing sluggish Chinese industrial production and investment.

Slowing growth in China raised expectations of fiscal policy stimulus from authorities in mainland China, said Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

“I think people are expecting more fiscal policy,” he said. “That is why there is buying interest in the market.”

The Chinese government last week approved 55 investment projects worth 1 trillion yuan ($157.7 billion) to build highways, ports and railways across the country, Xinhua news agency reported.

That helped boost Chinese infrastructure stocks. Hong Kong-listed Anhui Conch Cement jumped 3.7 percent and Shanghai-listed Fujian Cement soared 8.1 percent.

Australian mining shares jumped. Rio Tinto Ltd. rose 3.9 percent, Newcrest Mining Ltd. added 4.6 percent and Fortescue Metals Group added 5.4 percent.

On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose following the U.S. jobs report, up 0.1 percent to close at 13,306.64. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.4 percent to 1,437.92. The Nasdaq composite index rose less than 1 point to 3,136.42.

Benchmark oil for October delivery fell 14 cents to $96.28 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 89 cents to finish at $96.42 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the euro dipped to $1.2782 from $1.2795 late Friday in New York. The dollar fell to 78.21 yen from 78.29 yen.

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