Asian markets cautiously awaiting key US data

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By EILEEN NG, Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly weaker Thursday, with a cautious mood prevailing ahead of key U.S. data that will provide further clues on when the Federal Reserve will cut monetary stimulus.

Japan's Nikkei 225 shed 0.7 percent to 14,238.95 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.8 percent at 22,864.59. China's Shanghai Composite fell 0.3 percent to 2,134.27 and Seoul's Kospi dipped 0.5 percent to 2002.85.

Benchmarks in Taiwan and Australia were also lower but Singapore, Jakarta and India bucked the trend.

Stan Shamu, market strategist for IG in Melbourne, Australia, said investors are staying on the sidelines ahead of the release of the advance estimate of U.S. third quarter economic growth later Thursday and October jobs figures on Friday.

Both reports could signal how much longer the Federal Reserve will continue its bond purchases at the current $85 billion a month rate. That program has held down interest rates, kept bond yields low and made stocks more attractive for investors.

Market expectations are also growing that the European Central Bank and the Bank of England may disappoint and not cut interest rates at policy meetings Thursday to shore up a recovery from recession, he said.

"With two central banks, a U.S. GDP and jobs report all due out, we were always bound to see some nervous trading," Shamu said.

DBS Vickers in Hong Kong said in a market commentary that the ECB is likely to put off rate cuts amid a pick-up in production and confidence, but it may open the door for possible easing in December when it releases its quarterly economic projections,

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average climbed 0.8 percent to a record close of 15,746.88 on Wednesday. The S&P 500 index rose 0.4 percent, to 1,770.49, just one point below its all-time high set Oct. 29.

Benchmark crude for December delivery was up 15 cents at $94.95 in electronic trading at the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.43 to close at $94.80 a barrel on Wednesday.

The euro rose to $1.3517 from $1.3510 late Wednesday. The dollar was unchanged at 98.65 yen.

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