Asian shares edge higher with Fed meeting in focus

SINGAPORE (AP) — Asian markets rose Monday on hopes that the Federal Reserve would re-evaluate its hawkish stance at a meeting later this week, following signs of slower global growth.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index added 0.8 percent to 21,536.85 and the Kospi in South Korea gained 0.3 percent to 2,074.51. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was up 0.3 percent at 26,178.87. The Shanghai Composite index rose 0.1 percent to 2,597.22. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 was 0.6 percent higher at 5,635.50. Shares were higher in Taiwan and Singapore but fell in Indonesia.

WALL STREET: On Friday, weak economic data from China and Europe fueled worries about the global economy, dragging shares to eight-month lows. Sentiment was also dampened by the mess surrounding Britain’s impending departure from the European Union. The S&P 500 index gave up 1.9 percent to 2,599.95, its lowest close since April 2. The Dow slipped 2 percent to 24,100.51 and the Nasdaq composite was 2.3 percent lower at 6,910.66. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 1.5 percent to 1,410.81. All major U.S. indexes have fallen more than 10 percent from their record highs, reaching a mark known on Wall Street as a “correction.” Markets are awaiting the elusive “Santa Claus rally,” which usually makes December the best month of the year for stocks.

FED MEETING: The Federal Open Market Committee is expected to raise its short-term interest rate — a benchmark for many consumer and business loans — by a modest quarter-point to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent after a meeting on Wednesday. This would be its ninth hike since late 2015. Markets will be watching any policy statement changes and a news conference by Chairman Jerome Powell. The central bank forecasts three more rate hikes in 2019, but softer global growth could cause a shift in its hawkish stance. Last week, China announced that its industrial output and retail sales had slowed in November. France, which is racked by protests, reported that its purchasing managers’ index fell to a level pointing toward economic contraction. Germany’s reading, that still reflected growth, fell to a four-year low.

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ANALYST’S TAKE: “The ‘Santa rally’ which had been hoped for has proven to be frustratingly elusive, and now markets are quite happy, if not desperate, for at least a dovish line to be thrown by the FOMC,” Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank said in a market commentary. Markets are “grasping straws led by hopes that there will be a material dial back of hawkish bias,” he added.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude added 12 cents to $51.32 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dropped $1.38 to settle at $51.20 in New York on Friday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 7 cents to $60.35 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar strengthened to 113.46 yen from 113.38 yen in late trading Friday. The euro rose to $1.1312 from $1.1306.

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AP Markets Writer Marley Jay contributed to this report.

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