Japanese stocks rise, other Asian stocks fall ahead of interest rate talks

HONG KONG - Japanese stocks rose as the yen weakened but other Asian benchmarks were mostly lower as investors hunkered down ahead of the Fed's key meeting next week on interest rates.

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KEEPING SCORE: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.8 per cent to 19,206.23 after the yen failed to hold on to the previous day's gains. A weaker currency makes Japan's electronics and cars cheaper for overseas customers. South Korea's Kospi lost 0.2 per cent to 1,947.68. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slipped 0.8 per cent to 21,534.45 and mainland China's Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.1 per cent to 3,417.46. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.2 per cent to 5,029.50. Benchmarks in Taiwan and Southeast Asia also lost ground.

FED FOCUS: Investors are zeroing in on next week's crucial two-day Fed meeting that wraps up on Dec. 16. Policymakers are widely expected to announce that they're raising key interest rates from their record low levels for the first time in seven years. Recent economic reports indicate that the U.S. economy is healthy enough to withstand a rate hike. Markets will be monitoring upcoming data, such as a retail sales report for November expected after Asian markets close, though it's not expected to greatly influence the Fed's decision.

CHINA DATA: Markets are also cautious ahead of a batch of monthly economic data expected on Saturday, including retail sales, fixed asset investment and industrial production. Further out, a report on foreign direct investment in China is due on Wednesday. The latest figures will provide an update on the world's second biggest economy, which is struggling with a stubborn downturn.

TYCOON TURMOIL: Analysts said Chinese investor sentiment was hit by a news report that Guo Guangchang, the billionaire tycoon chairman of one of the country's biggest conglomerates, Fosun International, has gone missing. He's the latest senior executive from a Chinese company to disappear amid a sweeping anti-corruption campaign led by President Xi Jinping. Shares of Fosun and its pharmaceutical unit were suspended in Hong Kong pending further information.

QUOTE-WORTHY: "Asian markets had a mixed day to end the week after positive leads from Wall Street," Angus Nicholson of IG wrote in a commentary. "Trepidation around the Fed, seasonal tax loss selling, (yuan) devaluation and the post-OPEC sell off in oil have been weighing heavily on markets this week, although Japanese markets have clearly reached levels where investors are happy with valuations again."

WALL STREET: The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 0.5 per cent to close at 17,574.75. The S&P 500 index rose 0.2 per cent to 2,052.23 and the Nasdaq composite increased 0.4 per cent to 5,045.17.

ENERGY: The price of U.S. benchmark crude fell further, sinking 28 cents to $36.48 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 40 cents, or 1 per cent, to settle at $36.76 a barrel on Thursday, its lowest level since early 2009. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell 31 cents to $39.82 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 122.06 yen from 121.94 yen. The euro strengthened to $1.0940 from $1.0937.


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