Most Asian stocks down as Fed looms large

An investor looks at the stock price monitor at a private securities company Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in Shanghai, China. Asian stock markets outside Japan mostly slid Tuesday as investors awaited a slew of U.S. economic data this week to gauge when the Federal Reserve will start reducing its monetary stimulus. (AP Photo)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Most Asian stock markets fell Wednesday, led by losses in Japan, as investors continued to worry the U.S. Federal Reserve will soon start reducing its monetary stimulus.

Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 2 percent to 15,426.70, pulling back from Tuesday's rise and levels that were the index's highest in about six months.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.4 percent at 23,813.15 and South Korea's Kospi slid 0.6 percent to 1,996.74. Benchmarks in Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines also fell.

But China's Shanghai Composite added 1.6 percent to 2,257.90 and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 5,273.80.

Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG in Melbourne, Australia said traders and economists are looking to employment figures Wednesday from payrolls company ADP for indications about the strength of hiring in the official U.S. employment report due Friday.

Whether the Fed starts reducing its $85 billion of monthly bond purchases will likely hinge on Friday's report. The Fed's stimulus has shored up global stock markets over the past few years. So-called "tapering" of that stimulus could work the opposite way, even though it would be predicated on an improving U.S. economic outlook.

On Wall Street, a stock market pullback long anticipated by investors may have arrived after eight straight weeks of gains.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 94.15 points, or 0.6 percent, to 15,914.62. The S&P 500 fell 5.75 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,795.15.

In the energy markets, benchmark crude for January delivery was up $1.21 to $97.25 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract climbed $2.22 to close at $96.04 on Tuesday.

The euro rose to $1.3586 from $1.3582 late Tuesday. The dollar fell to 102.49 yen from 102.56 yen.