Asian markets mixed ahead of Bernanke speech

Asian stock markets were mixed and the dollar was in a tight range in cautious trade on Friday ahead of a highly anticipated speech by US Federal Reserve head Ben Bernanke later in the day.

At the end of a week that has seen narrow gains for most indexes, investors sat on the sidelines before Bernanke’s speech to see if he will set out a plan to kick start the stumbling US economy.

Hong Kong rose 0.68 percent and Seoul gained 0.54 percent while Tokyo and Sydney were flat and Shanghai dipped 0.34 percent.
“This may be the calm before the storm,” Hisatsune Kobayashi, general manager of global investment strategy at SMBC Nikko Securities in Japan, told Dow Jones Newswires.

“Although most market players don’t expect US Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to introduce aggressive monetary easing measures tonight, investors will nevertheless be disappointed if he does nothing at all.”
Markets got a poor lead from Wall Street, which saw big falls after a three-day rally.

The Dow fell 1.51 percent, the S&P 500 dropped 1.56 percent and Nasdaq slumped 1.95 percent.

Rumours that Bernanke’s speech at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, will outline fresh stimulus measures sent shares higher and the dollar lower this week.
But dealers have grown sceptical that he will endorse a further round of quantitative easing, or “QE”, in which a central bank buys assets from banks with electronically-generated cash to pump liquidity into the economy.

In early Tokyo trade the greenback fetched 77.30 yen, against 77.45 yen in New York late Thursday but well up from the record low 75.95 yen it hit last Friday.
The euro was trading at $1.4401 versus $1.4378 while it was flat at 111.35 yen.
“The dollar was broadly bought back overnight as speculation that Bernanke would suggest QE3 is dwindling,” said Tomohiro Ishikawa, dealer at Chuo Mitsui Trust and Banking.
“Market participants are seen staying sidelines today awaiting what Bernanke will actually say,” Ishikawa said.

On oil markets New York’s main contract, West Texas Intermediate light sweet crude for October delivery eased 20 cents to $85.10 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for October delivery rose 23 cents to $110.85.
Gold opened at $1,759.00-$1,760.00 an ounce in Hong Kong, up from Thursday’s close of $1,738.00-$1,739.00.