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Asia stocks fall amid Irish debt worries

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Asian stock markets retreated Wednesday, extending a global sell-off triggered by Europe’s simmering debt crisis and expectations China will raise interest rates again to tame inflation.

Sentiment was cautious as an anxiously awaited meeting of European finance ministers ended without an agreement to bail out debt-stricken Ireland. But European Union officials said they have “intensified” preparations for potential support for the country’s troubled banking sector. That gave the euro a modest boost against the dollar after it tumbled the day before.

Speculation that China will take more steps to rein in its red-hot economy after inflation hit a 25-month high in October also kept Asian markets in check. A state media report of a speech by Premier Wen Jiabao, the country’s top economic official, saying the Cabinet is “drafting measures to suppress sharp rises of commodity prices” added to those expectations.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index slid 1.9 percent to 2,838.86 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 1.1 percent to 23,434.84.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average bucked the trend, gaining 0.2 percent to 9,811.66 as the dollar rose against the yen, boosting exporters.

Australia’s ASX/S&P 200 was off 1.6 percent at 4,624.30 while South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.1 percent to 1,897.11.

Elsewhere, markets in Taiwan, Thailand and New Zealand fell. Singapore, India, Indonesia and Malaysia were closed for holidays.

Resource companies took a big hit around the region as commodity prices fell overnight. Australian miner Rio Tinto Ltd. tumbled 3.2 percent in Sydney while rival BHP Billiton Ltd. fell 2.2 percent.

In New York Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 178.47, or 1.6 percent, to 11,023.50, hit by jitters over European debt and Chinese inflation. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 19.41, or 1.6 percent, to 1,178.34, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 43.98, or 1.8 percent, to 2,469.84.

Concerns that Ireland will be unable to pay the cost of rescuing its banks — which ran into trouble when the country’s real estate boom collapsed — has worsened Europe’s government debt crisis.

Markets have pushed up borrowing costs for other vulnerable nations such as Portugal and Spain and threatened to destabilize the common euro currency.

There was speculation that Ireland’s government might be forced to take a bailout like the one that saved Greece from defaulting on its bonds in May. A euro 750 billion backstop stands ready from other countries that use the euro.

In currencies, the dollar rose to 83.44 yen from 83.39 yen late Tuesday in New York. The euro rose to $1.3495 from $1.3479.

Benchmark crude for December delivery was down 21 cents at $82.13 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $2.52, or 3 percent, to settle at $82.34 on Tuesday.
Source: AP

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