Asia stocks wane as US budget talks drag on

FILE -- In this file photo taken at Chigi Palace government's office in Rome, on Dec. 6, 2012, Italian Premier Mario Monti gestures arrives for a news conference at the end of a cabinet meeting. Premier Mario Monti told the Italian president Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, he plans to resign following the sudden loss of support from Silvio Berlusconi's party, paving the way for early elections a year after the economist helped pull the country back from the brink of financial disaster. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pamela Sampson, AP Business Writer

BANGKOK (AP) -- Asian stock markets lost some steam Tuesday as efforts by U.S. leaders to reach a budget deal before the year's end appeared deadlocked and fears lingered that a leadership change in Italy could derail Europe's efforts to tackle its financial crisis.

Markets in Asia appeared to take in stride news that HSBC, the British banking giant, will pay $1.9 billion to settle a money-laundering probe by federal and state authorities in the United States. HSBC shares rose 0.3 percent in Hong Kong.

Jackson Wong, vice president at Tanrich Securities in Hong Kong, said investors were prepared for the bad news after rumors of a settlement leaked out Friday. Helping to calm nerves was HSBC's sale last Wednesday of its 15.6 percent stake in China's Ping An Insurance to a Thai conglomerate for about $9.4 billion.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell less than 0.1 percent to 9,529.48, with Japanese utilities coming under pressure a day after a team of geologists said that a nuclear power plant in western Japan is likely located on an active fault. Japanese guidelines prohibit nuclear facilities above active faults.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. fell 1.4 percent and Kansai Electric Power Co. shed 3.7 percent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent to 22,322.70 and South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent to 1,962.30. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.4 percent to 4,576. Benchmarks in Singapore and Indonesia also rose while New Zealand, Taiwan and mainland China fell.

Investors also got a slight jolt after Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who has been credited with restoring confidence in Italy's economy, announced he will resign by year's end. Monti said over the weekend that he found it impossible to lead after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, Parliament's largest, dropped its support for the government.

Analysts fear Monti's unexpected resignation could spark a new round of Italian political turmoil and slow efforts to get one of Europe's largest economies back in shape.

Anxiety was also growing as talks drag on between President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers over a way to avoid the "fiscal cliff," a series of tax hikes and spending cuts that will come into effect Jan. 1 if no agreement is in place to cut the budget deficit.

Stocks inched higher on Wall Street after a strong sales report by McDonald's boosted confidence in the consumer spending in the world's largest economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent to 13,169.88. The S&P rose 0.03 percent to 1,418.55. The Nasdaq composite index rose 0.3 percent to 2,986.96.

Benchmark oil for January delivery was up 6 cents to $85.62 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 37 cents to finish at $85.56 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2948 from $1.2938 in New York on Monday. The dollar rose slightly to 82.35 yen from 82.33 yen.


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