by Nick Coleman
HONG KONG, CHINA - Asian stock markets mostly fell on Wednesday amid expectations of a Chinese interest rate hike, but a weaker yen helped keep Japanese shares buoyant.
Tokyo ended up 0.90 percent, or 91.23 points, at 10,232.33, its highest close since June.
However Sydney fell 0.57 percent, or 26.9 points, to 4,699.9, led by the four big banks afterTreasurer Wayne Swan said he would announce reforms to increase competition in the sector.
And Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index ended down 1.43 percent, or 335.63 points, at 23,092.52, while Shanghai's Composite fell 0.95 percent, or 27.31 points, to 2,848.55.
Investors in China remain cautious ahead of an annual Central Economic Work Conference expected this month and as traders anticipate an imminent interest rate hike to dampen inflation.
Rate hike expectations have grown ahead of key economic data for November, which the mainland authorities said would be released on Saturday instead of the following Monday as scheduled earlier.
Anticipation of a rate hike has grown since October's consumer price index showed a 4.4 percent year-on-year rise in prices, above Beijing's three percent comfort zone.
However with traders already adjusting their positions, it remains to be seen whether the actual announcement will spark major price movements, according to analysts.
"China may raise interest rates ahead and its stance on inflation will also be key in guiding the near-term market direction," said Louis Tse, director at Value Convergence CEF Securities in Hong Kong.
Gold miners led the downward trend in Hong Kong and Shanghai as the precious metal slipped from a record-high price in London on Tuesday of 1,431.25 dollars an ounce.
Gold closed at 1,392.00-1,393.00 US dollars an ounce in Hong Kong, sharply down from Tuesday's close of 1,423.00-1,424.00.
Brazilian mining giant Vale made an uneventful debut in Hong Kong, where it became the first South American firm to list on the city's bourse in a bid to tap the Chinese market.
Vale traded in a narrow range before ending at 265.20 dollars.
Tokyo traders however took heart from an announcement on Monday by US President Barack Obama and his Republican foes extending tax breaks for all income groups, including the wealthiest Americans.
"These measures will help to stimulate the US economy significantly," Okasan Securities strategist Hideyuki Ishiguro told Dow Jones Newswires.
A weaker yen also supported the market, reflecting Japan's dependence on exports.
In early European trade the euro dipped to 1.3221 dollars, from 1.3258 dollars in New York late Tuesday.
The European single currency firmed to 110.95 yen however from 110.64 yen, while the dollar rose to 83.93 yen from 83.45 yen.
Wall Street stocks closed mostly flat Tuesday, after trading with strong gains throughout the day, as early enthusiasm over a controversial deal to extend tax cuts was replaced by caution.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.03 percent, the broader S&P 500 gained 0.05 percent and the tech-rich Nasdaq climbed 0.14 percent.
Oil fell below 88 dollars in Asian trade as traders took profits after prices reached two-year highs on Monday, analysts said.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for January delivery, tumbled 95 cents to 87.74 dollars a barrel. Brent North Sea crude for January slipped 1.05 dollars to 90.34 dollars.
"The weakness we've had yesterday and today is just a bit of profit-taking," said Ben Westmore, minerals and energy economist for the National Australia Bank in Melbourne.
In other markets:
Seoul closed 0.35 percent, or 6.80 points, lower at 1,955.72.
Manila rose 0.55 percent, or 23.17 points, to 4,221.09.
Top-traded Energy Development Corp. was up 2.54 percent at 6.06 pesos while Aboitiz Power Corp. rose 0.74 percent to 33.85 pesos.
Wellington rose 0.38 percent, or 12.48 points, to 3,294.34.
Fletcher Building closed up 0.6 percent at 7.88 New Zealand dollars, retailer The Warehouse Group rose 0.8 percent to 3.79 and Telecom was unchanged at 2.15.
Taipei was flat, edging down 0.60 points to 8,703.79.
Computer maker Acer rose 2.19 percent to 98.1 Taiwan dollars, while electronic goods manufacturer Hon Hai fell 0.44 percent to 113.0.
Jakarta rose 1.28 percent, or 47.64 points, to 3,769.99.
Car distributor Astra International jumped 3.1 percent to 54,550 rupiah and Bank Central Asia gained 2.3 percent to 6,700 rupiah.
Singapore rose 0.34 percent, or 10.92 points, to 3,202.80.
Wilmar International fell 1.16 percent to 5.97 Singapore dollars, while Keppel Land shed 1.24 percent to 4.78.
Kuala Lumpur rose 0.55 percent, or 8.32 points, to 1,510.06.
Builder UEM Land rose 6.10 percent to 2.43 ringgit, SP Setia added 2.30 percent to 5.36 and glove-maker Top Glove was down 3.10 percent at 5.38.
Bangkok fell 1.50 percent, or 15.64 points, to 1,025.08.
Banpu shed 6.00 baht to close at 796.00, while PTT Plc fell 6.00 baht to 323.00.
Mumbai fell 1.19 percent, or 238.16 points, to 19,696.48.
State Bank of India fell 2.01 percent to 2,807.8 rupees and state-run Hindustan Petroleum Corp (HPCL) rose 3.38 percent to 409.95 rupees. --AFP