Europe stocks down, Asia up amid China economic reform pledges, extended Fed stimulus

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – European markets fell Monday but most Asian stocks were lifted by China’s reform pledges and expectations the U.S. central bank will extend its economic stimulus until March or later.

Major European benchmarks were weaker in early trading ahead of the release of November manufacturing data this week that are unlikely to change the overall picture of a struggling regional economy. Britain’s FTSE 100 declined 0.2 per cent to 6,681.23 and France’s CAC-40 inched down 0.3 per cent to 4,278.79. Germany’s DAX shed 0.3 per cent to 9,144.38.

Futures indicated that U.S. stocks may consolidate after hitting record highs on Friday. S&P 500 and Dow futures were both down 0.1 per cent.

In Asia, the mood was more optimistic.

After the region’s stock markets closed Friday, Beijing announced more details of economic and social reforms including opening state industries to greater competition, loosening its one child policy, and abolishing its labour camps. China’s authoritarian leadership has faced pressure to replace a worn out economic model after growth slowed to a two-decade low in the second quarter.

“Different reforms have impacted different industries and the overall reaction today has turned out to be positive, with a sense of optimism that these reforms are for the better,” said Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia.

China’s Shanghai Composite surged 2.9 per cent to 2,197.22 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 2.7 per cent to 23,660.06.

South Korea’s Kospi was up 0.3 per cent to 2,010.81 but Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 reversed early gains to close fractionally lower at 15,164.30.

Benchmarks in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore and Malaysia rose.

The likely extension of the Federal Reserve’s monetary stimulus continued to underpin stock markets in Asia.

Janet Yellen, who is slated to replace Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chief early next year, last week expressed strong support for the Fed’s low interest-rate policies during a two-hour confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

Her statements convinced markets that the central bank won’t cut, or taper, its $85 billion of monthly bond purchases until at least March. Previously, there were expectations that the bond buying, which has kept interest rates low and sent a wave of investment into higher-yielding stocks, would be scaled back from next month.

“Yellen’s dovish slant appears to have been enough to kick-start the Christmas party early,” Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a market commentary.

There will be caution however, ahead of the release of October retail sales, home sales and inflation data this week that will reflect the strength of the U.S. economy. The Fed is also expected to release the minutes of its last meeting, which will give further clues on the timing for tapering, analysts said.

In energy markets, benchmark crude for December delivery was down 31 cents at $93.53 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 8 cents to close at $93.84 on Friday.

The euro rose to $1.3512 from $1.3491 late Friday. The dollar fell to 99.88 yen from 100.30 yen.

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