Asia stocks mixed before German leader speaks

December 2, 2011 - 12:00 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed Friday as markets nervously awaited a key speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in hopes she might unveil new steps to stanch Europe's escalating debt crisis.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 0.2 percent to 8,613.28, and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 4,242. But South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.3 percent to 1,910.87 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.4 percent to 18,925.68. Benchmarks in Taiwan, Singapore and mainland China were also lower.

Merkel will speak Friday before Germany's parliament about Europe's financial crisis and ahead of a summit of European Union leaders on Dec. 9, whose goal is to deliver a long-term solution to the debt crisis.

Merkel has acknowledged the need for changes to the European Union treaty to impose stricter financial controls on countries that use the euro common currency to prevent them from taking on too much debt.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of England and the central banks of Canada, Japan and Switzerland said they were working together to make it easier for banks to borrow dollars.

The coordinated effort was meant to prevent Europe's debt crisis from exploding into a global panic. Should a European bank fail or if a country default on its debt, investors fear it could result in a freeze-up in global lending like the one that occurred in 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed.

The central bank action caused global stocks to rally Thursday.

Another rise in applications for weekly U.S. unemployment benefits dampened the mood on Wall Street on Thursday. Traders took little encouragement from a better manufacturing report. The Institute for Supply Management said that manufacturing grew last month at the fastest pace since June.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.2 percent to close at 12,020.03. The S&P 500 index slipped 0.2 percent to 1,244.59. The tech-heavy Nasdaq inched up 0.2 percent to 2,626.

The Labor Department said initial applications rose to 402,000 last week, the second weekly increase in a row. The figures didn't change expectations for the government's monthly labor report, which comes out Friday. Economists forecast that the unemployment rate will remain at 9 percent.

Benchmark oil for January delivery was down 6 cents to $100.14 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Friday. The contract lost 16 cents to end at $100.20 per barrel on the Nymex on Thursday.

In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.3467 from $1.3460 late Thursday in New York. The dollar rose to 77.84 yen from 77.76 yen.