Asian stock markets lower amid US recession fears

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stocks gave up early gains and fell Monday as fears that the U.S. is slipping back into recession caused investors to dump riskier assets.

Brent crude fell below $83 a barrel in Asia as Libyan rebels entered Tripoli, boosting hopes the OPEC nation’s oil exports could resume soon. The dollar was stronger against the yen and the euro.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.8 percent to 19,242.88 and South Korea’s Kospi index dropped 1.2 percent to 1,722.61. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore, mainland China and Indonesia were also lower.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.2 percent to 8,733.83 amid hopes that the country’s monetary authorities would turn to intervention if the yen strengthens further against the dollar.

Japan intervened in currency markets earlier this month to try to reverse the yen’s climb. The decision to sell the yen and buy the dollar worked initially, sending the greenback toward 80 yen. But the dollar has been weighed down by the dimming outlook for U.S. economy and is back down to mid 76-yen levels.

Investors will be on edge this week as they scrutinize new data on the U.S. economy. But the most anticipated event will be a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke at a retreat in Wyoming, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

The Fed pledged earlier this month to keep interest rates super-low through mid-2013. Investors hope Bernanke will announce, or at least preview, further steps to help the economy, including a third round of bond purchases known as quantitative easing to help the economy.

“I think Ben Bernanke’s meeting in Jackson Hole will be very much in focus here” said Tom Kaan, head of equity sales at Louis Capital Markets in Hong Kong. The consensus is that a third round of quantitative easing will come in some form, he said.

Asian markets were the first to open after the developments in Libya, with the apparent crumbling of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime after rebels entered the capital of Tripoli on Sunday. Oil prices are expected to fall if the situation can quickly stabilize.

Libya used to export about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, but production had all but ground to a halt in recent months as rebels battled to overthrow Gadhafi.

Stocks in the U.S. fell Friday to end a fourth straight week in the red, amid fears the U.S. economy is headed toward another recession. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 172.93 points, or 1.6 percent, to close at 10,817.65. Since July 21, the Dow has fallen about 15 percent.

The dollar hit a new post-World War II low against the Japanese yen Friday as investors flocked toward safety. The dollar fell as low as 75.94 yen in New York before rebounding to 76.48 later. On Monday, the dollar rose to 76.73 yen.

The euro, meanwhile, fell to $1.4367 from $1.4387 on Friday.

Benchmark oil for September delivery was up 19 cents to $82.45 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude fell 12 cents to settle at $82.26 on Friday.

In London, Brent crude for October delivery was down $1.70 per barrel to $106.92 on the ICE Futures exchange.

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