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Asia stocks fall after US confidence weakens
Asian stock markets fall after US consumer confidence weakens
By The Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) ' Asian stock markets fell Wednesday after a weaker U.S. consumer confidence reading shook hopes for a healthy rebound in the world's No. 1 economy.

Profit-taking drove Japan's Nikkei 225 index down 1 percent to 10,149.74, a day after the benchmark shot to a one-year high.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng ceded 0.6 percent to 20,932.90 and South Korea's Kospi shed 0.4 percent to 2,031.53. The Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.9 percent to 2,325.60.

But Australia's S&P/ASX 200 bucked the trend, rising 0.7 percent to 4,330.10.

Losses in Asia were in line with Wall Street, where stocks pulled back after the Conference Board said its index of U.S. consumer confidence slipped in March. The mood was further dampened when the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Virginia reported that a measure of regional manufacturing plunged this month.

Markets have recently had to digest lackluster news about the U.S. economy. Data released Tuesday in Washington showed home prices fell in January for a fifth straight month in most major U.S. cities, as modest sales increases have yet to boost prices.

On top of that, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said the U.S. job market was still weak despite recent signs of improvement.

Later Wednesday, the U.S. government was to release data on durable goods orders for February. Durable goods are products expected to last at least three years, such as appliances, cars, machinery and airplanes.

"Along with the further drop in home prices, today's durable goods report should underscore what Bernanke said on Monday: that growth is not strong and further drops in the unemployment rate are unlikely until growth picks up," analysts at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore said in a research note.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 43.90 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 13,197.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.99 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,412.52. The Nasdaq composite fell 2.22 points, or 0.07 percent, to 3,120.35.

Benchmark oil was down 54 cents to $106.79 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 30 cents to $107.33 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currency trading, the euro fell to $1.3327 from $1.3336 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar fell to 82.95 yen from 83.09 yen.

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