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Asian stock markets down ahead of Bernanke speech
Asian stock markets down as investors await speech by Fed chief Bernanke
By The Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) ' Asian stock markets sank Friday as investors waited to see if Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke unveils new steps to help the U.S. economy ward off another recession.

Japan's Nikkei 225 slipped 0.1 percent to 8,766.54. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gave up early gains and dipped 0.1 percent to 19,735.33 while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 was 0.3 percent lower at 4,200.10. South Korea's Kospi also ceded morning gains and was down 0.2 percent at 1,762.30.

Trading was expected to remain tentative and volatile as investors wait to see if Bernanke offers more support for the U.S. economy when he delivers a highly anticipated speech at a conference later Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Worries that the U.S. could be headed for another recession has in recent weeks caused huge volatility in equities, bonds and foreign exchange.

Some shares weakened on the heels of disappointing earnings reports. Air China Ltd. slid 3 percent after the company on Friday announced its first-half profit fell 12 percent as soaring fuel costs offset strong revenue growth.

PetroChina Ltd., China's biggest oil and gas company, dropped 1.7 percent, a day after the company said its first-half profit was nearly flat as losses in its refining business eroded gains from higher oil and gas output.

In Europe on Thursday, debate continued about the best way to resolve debt problems in several countries. Germany's main stock index, the DAX, plummeted 4 percent within 20 minutes before paring its losses and closing down 1.7 percent.

The sudden move in one of Europe's major markets rattled investors and prompted some to buy gold, causing prices of the metal to rebound. Hong Kong-listed Zijin Mining Group Co., China's largest gold miner, rose 1.1 percent.

Benchmark oil for October delivery was down 4 cents to $85.26 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 14 cents to settle at $85.30 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

On Thursday, the U.S. government reported an increase in the number of people applying for unemployment benefits last week. The Labor Department said applications rose to 417,000, the highest in five weeks.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down or 1.5 percent at 11,149.82. The S&P 500 fell 1.6 percent to 1,159.27. The Nasdaq fell 1.9 percent to 2,419.63.

In currency trade, the euro rose to $1.4406 from $1.4368 late in New York on Thursday. The dollar slipped to 77.31 yen from 77.55 yen.

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