By Virginia Harrison, MarketWatch
HONG KONG (MarketWatch) — Most Asian stock markets were lower Thursday, with investors reevaluating hopes of Federal Reserve stimulus measures at the central bank’s monthly meeting later in the day, while iPhone-supported network operators were higher following the latest release of the Apple Inc. gadget.
Hong Kong-based sales trader Andrew Sullivan said the softer tone around the region showed investors were less optimistic that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would make any bombshell easing announcement at its September meeting later Thursday.
”I think he will follow Apple’s lead: nothing new,“ Sullivan said. “Bernanke has the benefit of being able to watch and see whether the Bank of England’s move to lend banks money on the proviso [that] it’s lent to businesses works. He can [also] watch and see whether the European Central Bank move to put overnight rates to zero drives banks to lend money.”
Hawkish regional tone
Around the region, central banks showed a slightly more hawkish tone, opting to hold key interest rates unchanged in New Zealand, Philippines and South Korea in decision announcements Thursday.
The Hang Seng Index /zigman2/quotes/210598030/delayed HK:HSI +1.07% ended 0.1% lower, marking its first decline in six trading sessions. China’s Shanghai Composite /zigman2/quotes/206600939/delayed CN:000001 +1.10% lost 0.8%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index /zigman2/quotes/210598100/delayed AU:XJO +0.36% dropped 0.5%, and South Korea’s Kospi /zigman2/quotes/210598069/delayed KR:180721 +1.02% ended little changed.
Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average /zigman2/quotes/210597971/delayed JP:NIK +0.23% climbed 0.4%, while Singapore’s Straits Times was down 0.1% in the final hour of trade.
The Asia Dow was little changed, rising 0.1% late.
The true picture of China's unemployment
Despite assurances that China will meet its 7.5% annual-growth target, a picture of more job losses is emerging. Find out how to read between the lines of the country's opaque unemployment figures.
The performance followed modest gains for U.S. stocks Wednesday after Germany’s top court cleared the way for the nation to contribute to a regional rescue fund, with investors also looking toward the Fed. Read more on the U.S. session.
Germany’s court ruling came a week after the European Central Bank unveiled a bond-buying program designed to lower borrowing costs for distressed countries in the region.
Sharp Corp. /zigman2/quotes/203224600/delayed JP:6753 +0.12% /zigman2/quotes/207472799/delayed SHCAF +2.67% ended 0.5% lower amid reports that the electronics major has begun shipping display screens for the iPhone 5.
Among other Tokyo-listed techs, Sony Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201361720/delayed JP:6758 -0.28% /zigman2/quotes/208567357/composite SNE +0.14% and Panasonic Corp. /zigman2/quotes/201785256/delayed JP:6752 -0.96% nudged up 2.2% and 1.8% respectively, after announcing a cut to managers’ salaries Tuesday.