BUSINESS

Asian stock markets quiet amid public holidays, 2 days after Federal Reserve fueled big rally

09/20/2013 01:24 EDT | Updated 11/19/2013 05:12 EST
BANGKOK - Japan's benchmark stock index fell Friday while markets elsewhere in Asia were quiet or closed, two days after the Fed announced it would keep its unprecedented stimulus program in place.

The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo gave up early gains and fell 0.2 per cent to 14,736.44. Markets elsewhere also ran out of gas following big rallies that were sparked by the U.S. Federal Reserve's surprise decision Wednesday to maintain its $85 billion in monthly asset purchases.

Many traders had expected the Fed to start scaling back its asset purchase program, instituted in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis to help keep afloat a recession-mired U.S. economy. The program was used to increase the flow of money available for loans to spur growth, and also push down interest rates.

The low interest rate environment proved a boon for stock markets, where investors fled with their money in search of higher returns.

That is a key reason why stock markets rejoiced when the Fed left its "quantitative easing" program untouched earlier this week — even though the Fed is maintaining the program because the U.S. economic recovery is weak.

Trading throughout Asia was muted Friday, largely due to public holidays. Markets in Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia were closed.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.4 per cent to 5,272.10. Benchmarks in Indonesia, New Zealand and Singapore fell, while the PSE Composite index in Manila rose.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3 per cent Thursday to close at 15,636.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.2 per cent, to 1,722.34. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.2 per cent, to 3,789.38.

Now that the Fed has spoken, investors will likely begin turning their focus to Washington and the political fighting between the White House and Congress over the approaching debt ceiling. It must be raised by Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown. Failure to do so could lead to the first-ever national default in U.S. history.

Market volatility will increase as the deadline approaches, said Evan Lucas of IG in Melbourne, Australia.

"This is the next key thing," Lucas said. "A lot of people are looking for a reason to sell."

Benchmark oil for October delivery was down 30 cents to $106.09 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.68 to close at $106.39 a barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currencies, the euro fell slightly to $1.3533 from $1.3534 late Thursday. The dollar fell to 99.32 yen from 99.37 yen.

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