Asian markets on pause mode ahead of key U.S. decisions on monetary policy, Syria attack

TOKYO – Asian markets were little changed in Friday trading as investors awaited a decision from the U.S. on a possible attack on Syria as well as on stimulus measures.

The Nikkei Stock Average, the benchmark for the region’s main bourse in Tokyo, temporarily rose and then headed lower before closing higher at 14,404.67, up 0.1 per cent from the previous day’s close.

The Hang Seng lost 0.4 per cent to 22,864.89 in afternoon trading, while South Korea’s Kospi was down 0.5 per cent to 1,994.32.

The prospects of a U.S. attack on Syria and a decision from the Federal Reserve to scale back on stimulus measures have been adding to investor worries recently.

Masahiro Yamaguchi, vice-president at Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo, said the urge to buy was being offset by selling and so the benchmark was fluctuating in a short range as players awaited a key Fed meeting next week.

“The market has been nervous for some time, and so it’s hard to make major moves,” he said. “On the plus side is the celebratory buying over the decision to pick Tokyo for the Olympics.”

The International Olympic Committee chose Tokyo over the other finalist cities, Madrid and Istanbul, for the 2020 games over the weekend, sending stocks higher this week.

A three-day weekend in Japan for a Monday holiday also kept Tokyo players on the sidelines.

On Wall Street, the stock market closed slightly lower Thursday as the longest rally since July petered out. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.2 per cent to close at 15,300.64. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 0.3 per cent, to 1,683.42. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.2 per cent, to 3,715.97.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed flat at 6,588.98 while Germany’s DAX was steady at 8,494. The CAC-40 in France ended 0.3 per cent lower at 4,106.63.

It is unclear whether the U.S. plans a missile strike on Syria, where the fatal use of chemical weapons is suspected. But worries it will have a huge negative effect on the world economy have somewhat subsided despite lingering fears about the oil supply from the region.

If the Fed decides to reduce bond-buying, that would likely send interest rates higher. Officials have strongly hinted that the U.S. central bank plans to wind down its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases as the economy improves.

Benchmark oil for October delivery fell 17 cents to $108.43 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.04 to close at $108.60 a barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

The dollar was trading at 99.78 yen in Tokyo morning trading, up slightly from 99.22 late Thursday. The euro fell to $1.3279 from $1.3296 the day before.

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