BANGKOK — Asian stock markets fell Tuesday as investors waited for the U.S. Federal Reserve to telegraph what it plans to do next with its economic stimulus program.
The Fed is conducting its third round of massive bond purchases known as quantitative easing to help drive down interest rates and spur lending. But recently improving data on the U.S. economy has led to speculation that the Fed might consider scaling back the program or winding it down earlier than expected.
On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will appear before Congress and the central bank will release minutes of its most recent policy meeting.
"When markets are this elevated, with US markets at record levels, investors generally look for any excuse to exercise caution," said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG in Melbourne.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.1 percent to 15,341.85. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.6 percent to 23,364.36 amid profit-taking, analysts said. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.6 percent to 5,176.70 after minutes of the Reserve Bank of Australia's May meeting, released Tuesday, showed the central bank expects the country's economy to experience below-average growth this year.
South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.1 percent to 1,979.93. Benchmarks in Singapore, Indonesia and New Zealand fell while the Philippines rose. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed.
A key piece of data comes out of China later in the week when HSBC releases its monthly manufacturing survey Thursday. After some recent ups and downs, analysts said they expected to see a stabilization of growth in factory output.
"I think the market has already turned more cautious," said Linus Yip, strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong. "I don't think it will add much more impact to the market overall."
Among individual stocks, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. soared 23 percent after the company launched the manufacture of a mini-vehicle jointly developed with Nissan Motor Co., Kyodo News said.
On Monday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.1 percent to close at 15,335.28. The Standard & Poor's 500 dropped 0.1 percent to 1,666.29. Still, both stock indexes are near their record highs. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.1 percent, to 3,496.43.
Benchmark oil for June delivery was up 12 cents to $96.83 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 69 cents to close at $96.71 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Monday.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2886 from $1.2897 late Monday in New York. The dollar rose to 102.47 yen from 102.29 yen.
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