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Asian markets ease after flat Wall Street lead

HONG KONG--Asian markets fell on Thursday after Wall Street closed flat in response to a mixed bag of U.S. economic data, with trade cautious ahead of a speech by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke.

The dollar eased slightly from the gains it made in New York on the back of an upward revision of U.S. gross domestic product growth, while the euro was mixed after supportive comments by Germany and China for the single currency.

Tokyo fell 0.95 percent, or 86.03 points, to 8,983.78, Seoul lost 1.15 percent, or 22.16 points, to 1,906.38, while Sydney was off 0.94 percent, or 40.7 points, to close at 4,315.7.

Hong Kong fell 1.19 percent, or 235.60 points, to 19,552.91 and Shanghai ended flat, dipping 0.65 points to 2,052.59.

In its closely watched Beige Book the Fed said the U.S. economy continued to grow at a tepid pace in the past two months, with slight improvements in retail sales and the housing market.

However, the report, prepared ahead of the central bank's policy meeting next month, said many districts saw a softening in manufacturing, the sector that has been a key driver of the recovery from a deep 2008-2009 recession.

Earlier Wednesday the government said the economy had expanded at a faster pace in the second quarter than first thought.

The Commerce Department reported a clip of 1.7 percent for gross domestic product growth in the April-June period, revised from 1.5 percent.

On Wall Street the Dow and S&P 500 were flat while the Nasdaq rose just 0.13 percent.

But the news lifted the dollar late Wednesday and it was sitting at 78.70 yen by the end of New York trade, from around 78.50 yen earlier in Asia.

In early European trade Thursday the U.S. unit eased slightly to 78.60 yen.

Attention is now on a meeting of central bankers at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Bernanke is due to give a speech on Friday, with investors hoping he will outline plans for another round of monetary easing to kickstart the economy.

Meanwhile European Central Bank head Mario Draghi added to expectations the lender will resume its sovereign bond-buying scheme.

Writing in the German weekly Die Zeit, he said the ECB would always act within its mandate and ensure price stability, but that it might have to resort to exceptional measures.

Nevertheless, there is strong opposition to such moves, particularly in Germany, which argues it goes against the very spirit of eurozone treaties.

On currency markets the euro was mixed after German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who is beginning a two-day on a visit to China — said there was “absolute political will” to strengthen the currency.

Following a meeting with Merkel, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also said Beijing would continue to invest in the debt-troubled European Union.

Gold was at US$1,655.30 by 1100 GMT compared with US$$1,665.05 on Wednesday.

In other markets:

— Wellington was flat, edging up 0.03 percent, or 1.18 points, to 3.629.56.

Air New Zealand rose 13.41 percent to NZ$1.01.

— Manila closed 0.89 percent, or 46.41 points, lower at 5,149.31.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. fell 1.39 percent to 2,682 pesos while Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. dropped 1.42 percent to 93.50 pesos.

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