Asian Stocks Down on Fed Minutes and Commodity Weakness

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By Prasanth Aby Thomas | February 21, 2013 3:02 PM EST

Asian markets traded lower in the morning as the US economic concerns rebounded after minutes from Federal Reserve's policy meet showed uncertainty on the current monetary stimulus programme.

Japan's Nikkei slid 0.87 percent or 100.08 points to 11368.20 while South Korea's KOSPI was down 0.50 percent or 10.05 points to 2014.59. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 tumbled 1.52 percent or 77.40 points to 5021.30.

In China, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 1.85 percent or 44.39 points to 2352.79. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 1.60 percent or 373.24 points to 22934.17.

Minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's January policy meet showed that officials remained largely divided on the $85 billion-per-month asset-buying scheme. Several members were of the opinion that the central bank should be prepared to shift gears on the monetary easing plan in tandem with the economic conditions and the actual effectiveness of the programme.

The ambiguity on the matter had prompted US stocks and commodity markets to tumble earlier and pushed the dollar to session-highs against the yen and the euro. Gold prices saw the biggest one-day fall, by 3 percent to its lowest level in about seven months.

Energy markets too disappointed, with crude oil posting the worst one-day performance of the year during the North American trading session as Saudi Arabia's decision to increase output contributed to US concerns.

"Commodities were the worst performers, taking it from all sides as QE prospects were reduced and reports of a significant commodity fund winding up long positions put huge pressure on price," Jason Hughes, head of premium client management at IG Markets in Singapore.

"Brent crude dropped 1.6 percent to US$115.60 while US crude fell over 2 percent with the April contract settling at $95.22, and continued to fall in the after-hours electronic session to a low of $94.56".

Chinese market sentiments were dampened following reports that the Communist government has mandated that cities that had extreme property price rise should impose restrictions on house purchases.

Major Movers

The weak commodity-market performance overnight weighed related stocks lower across Asia. In Tokyo, Sumitomo Metal Mining fell 3.71 percent while JFE Holdings and Pacific Metals dropped 2.70 and 2.57 percent respectively.  

Aluminum Corp of China fell 3.66 percent in Hong Kong while Citic Pacific Holdings and CNOOC were down 2.33 and 1.78 percent respectively. In mainland China, Aluminum Corp of China fell 2.32 percent while Jiangxi Copper Company was down 6.54 percent.

Australian mining giants too tumbled. Shares of Rio Tinto traded 2.87 percent lower in Sydney while BHP Billiton and Newcrest Mining were down 3.60 and 3.07 percent respectively.

Steel products manufacturer POSCO fell 2.56 percent in Seoul while Hyundai Steel retreated about 2.5 percent.

Japanese heavy machinery manufacturers came under pressure after the earth-moving machinery maker Caterpillar reported a fall in equipment sales. Hitachi Construction Machinery fell 3.01 percent while Fanuc Corp fell 2.67 percent.  

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