Most Asian Stocks Fall Due to Uncertainty Over ECB Meeting

A Chinese investor monitors stock prices at a brokerage house in Beijing, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. Stocks tumbled across Asia on Monday as investors shaken by the sell-off last week on Wall Street unloaded shares in practically every sector. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A Chinese investor monitors stock prices at a brokerage house in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Most major Asian stock benchmarks weakened Wednesday as investors waited to see what steps policymakers would take to help revive flagging growth during a European Central Bank meeting.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index lost 1.3 percent to 16,557.48 while South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.1 percent to 1,944.06. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.7 percent to 19,872.51 and the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China retreated 2.9 percent to 2,817.21. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 5,121.90, while markets in Southeast Asia were mixed.

Investor attention is zeroed in on the European Central Bank’s policy meeting on Thursday. Many analysts expect the bank to open the stimulus taps further, based on hints from ECB chief Mario Draghi and economic data that showed inflation across the 19-country eurozone has slipped under zero. While it’s unclear just what moves the bank will take to stop prices from continuing to fall, options could include sending interest rates further into negative territory or stepping up a bond buying program. The most likely scenario is a cut to interest rates, which could give banks an incentive to lend more.

“Tomorrow’s ECB meeting also gives traders a reason to be cautious,” said Ric Spooner, Chief Market Analyst at CMC Markets. “Markets are expecting significant action from the ECB. Many see this as ECB’s last chance to provide a stimulus shock,” he said, describing the bank’s actions as a potential source of market volatility.

Lingering worries over China are also darkening investor sentiment. Data released Tuesday showed that exports in the world’s No. 2 economy slid 25 percent last month from a year earlier, as weak global demand and the bank holiday shutdowns took their toll. Imports skidded 14 percent lower.

Major U.S. benchmarks also closed lower, with the Dow Jones industrial average down 0.6 percent to close at 16,964.10 and the S&P 500 falling 1.1 percent to 1,979.26. The Nasdaq composite gave up 1.3 percent to 4,648.82.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 4 cents to $36.54 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.40 to settle at $36.50 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, dipped 10 cents to $39.55 a barrel in London.

The dollar slipped to 112.63 yen from 112.58 yen. The euro weakened to $1.0972 from $1.0998.