Asia stocks tentative as Bank of Japan meets

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By PAMELA SAMPSON, Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed Monday amid uncertainty about the outcome of a central bank meeting in Japan and nervousness over whether U.S. political leaders will be able to reach a deal on the government's debt limit.

Congress must agree to raise the limit on how much debt the U.S. can have by the end of February otherwise the country risks default and could be slapped with damaging credit downgrades.

Even if the ceiling is raised, it would likely be at the cost of deep spending cuts demanded by Republicans in Washington.

"Markets remain optimistic, mainly because failure to forge a deal would be a disaster," analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong said in a report. "However, the more time that passes the more nervous markets should become."

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.9 percent to 10,820.59 as the yen gained some ground against the dollar and the Bank of Japan began a two-day policy meeting. The central bank has been under pressure from Japan's new government to take more aggressive steps to fight the country's long deflationary slump.

South Korea's Kospi fell 0.4 percent to 1,979.08. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 0.1 percent to 23,624.17. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.1 percent to 4,776.50.

Benchmarks in mainland China, Singapore and New Zealand rose. Those in Taiwan and Indonesia fell.

Among stocks on the downturn were Japanese export shares, which shot up in recent sessions as the yen slid against other major currencies. Yamaha Motor Co. fell 2 percent. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. shed 3.2 percent.

The National Australia Bank rose 1.8 percent amid speculation that Spanish banking giant Santander was considering a bid for its U.K. business.

Better earnings from General Electric and Morgan Stanley helped Wall Street inch higher Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.4 percent to 13,649.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 0.3 percent to 1,485.98. The Nasdaq composite index fell marginally to 3,134.70.

Benchmark oil for February delivery was down 29 cents to $95.27 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 7 cents to finish at $95.56 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.3324 from $1.3320 late Friday in New York. The dollar fell to 89.64 yen from 90.03 yen.

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