Markets drift as investors await Fed details

Associated Press
An investor gestures at a private securities company Monday Aug. 19, 2013 in Shanghai, China. Asian stock markets were little changed Monday as traders weighed the consequences of an anticipated phasing out of the U.S. central bank's unprecedented stimulus program. (AP Photo)
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LONDON (AP) — With economic data thin on the ground Monday, financial markets have started the week on a subdued note.

But as the focus of attention remains on whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will start to reduce its monetary stimulus next month, investors will have a raft of key events to digest toward the second half of the week.

Recent economic data and public statements by Fed policymakers have led investors to conclude that the Fed will begin winding down its $85 billion a month in asset purchases as early as September. The policy, which is intended to lower interest rates to shore up the U.S. recovery, has also been credited for boosting stocks over the past few years as investors look for better returns than have existed in bond markets.

Key events this week include U.S. housing data, the minutes to the last policy meeting of the Fed and the start of the annual meeting of global central bankers and policymakers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Though Fed chairman Ben Bernanke will not be attending the symposium, his deputy, Janet Yellen, is due to make a speech. Yellen is one of the favorites to replace Bernanke if he stands down later this year.

"Excitement will build closer to the weekend," said Alastair McCaig, Market Analyst at IG.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.4 percent at 6,477, while Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent to 8,383. The CAC-40 in France was 0.9 percent lower at 4,085.

In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.1 percent at 15,088 while the broader S&P 500 index was also up 0.1 percent, at 1,658. The gains are muted, considering the losses the indexes suffered last week, which was the Dow's worst in over a year.

"Markets are lacking any real direction at the moment, with the prospect of the Fed reducing its asset purchases in September having a bigger impact than anything else," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari.

Earlier in Asia, South Korea's Kospi fell 0.1 percent to 1,917.64. Hong Kong's Hang Seng declined 0.2 percent to 22,463.70, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell less than 0.1 percent to 5,112.50. Trading was suspended in the Philippines due to severe flooding. Mainland Chinese shares rose.

One of the day's few gainers was Japan's Nikkei 225 index, which closed 0.8 percent higher at 13,758.13.

In currency markets, the euro was up 0.1 percent at $1.3355 while the dollar was 0.4 percent higher at 97.98 yen.

Oil prices were soft, too, with the benchmark New York rate down 14 cents at $107.30 a barrel.

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