Asia stocks fall as Europe debt woes flare anew

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By PAMELA SAMPSON, Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets fell Thursday after a weak Spanish bond auction inflamed concerns about the European debt crisis and hopes faded for more help for the U.S. economy from the Federal Reserve.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 1 percent to 9,717.93, after hitting its lowest intraday point since March 8 at 9,692.70.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled 1.5 percent to 20,489.01 and South Korea's Kospi fell 0.8 percent to 2,002.69. Falling commodity prices dragged Australia's S&P/ASX 200 down 0.9 percent to 4,296.80.

The debt crisis in Europe flared anew Wednesday after a disappointing auction of government debt in Spain signaled investor confidence in the country's finances is weakening. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 125 points, and the price of gold plunged to its lowest level since January.

That compounded worries that arose Tuesday, when minutes released from the March meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee gave no hint of a third round of bond purchases, dubbed quantitative easing III or QE3, to support the U.S. economy.

The Fed has already carried out two rounds of bond-buying, most recently in August 2010, to drive down long-term interest rates. Low bond yields generally encourage investors to shift money to buying stocks.

Analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in an email that "markets remained under pressure with a further digestion of the Fed's minutes which shows no hints for QE3."

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 1 percent at 13,074.75. The Standard & Poor's 500 index finished down 1 percent at 1,398.96. The Nasdaq composite index lost 1.5 percent to 3,068.09.

Benchmark oil for May delivery was up 48 cents to $101.95 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $2.54 to finish at $101.47 a barrel in New York on Wednesday. It had not closed below $102 per barrel since Feb. 15.

In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.3152 from $1.3139 late Wednesday in New York. The dollar fell to 82.22 yen from 82.58 yen.

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