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Markets in Asia hit by Spanish rating downgrade

HONG KONG--Asian markets and the euro fell on Thursday as a Standard & Poor's downgrade of Spain's credit rating overshadowed an upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy by the Federal Reserve.

Traders were also following a lead from Wall Street and European investors in the wake of the IMF's decision to slash its global growth forecasts, while concerns over the upcoming corporate earnings season also weighed on sentiment.

Eyes were also on a meeting which started later in the day of the finance ministers of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, which will take place in Tokyo.

Tokyo slipped 0.58 percent, or 49.45 points, to 8,546.78, with the territorial spat between Japan and China continuing to sit heavily on confidence.

Sydney fell 0.16 percent, or 7.2 points, to 4,483.5 and Seoul lost 0.78 percent, or 15.13 points, to 1,933.09.

Shanghai finished down 0.81 percent, or 17.07 points, to 2,102.87 but Hong Kong bucked the regional trend, rising 0.38 percent, or 79.45 points to 20,999.05.

Standard & Poor's said late Wednesday it had cut Spain's sovereign debt rating by two notches to just above junk level, citing the deepening recession and strains from the country's troubled banks.

“The downgrade reflects our view of mounting risks to Spain's public finances, due to rising economic and political pressures,” the ratings agency said.

“The deepening economic recession is limiting the Spanish government's policy options,” it said, adding that joblessness at 25 percent and tighter spending will likely intensify social conflict and tensions in the country.

The news is the latest to stoke eurozone concerns as Madrid refuses to ask for an international bailout, which would in turn kickstart a European Central Bank bond-buying program that would lower the country's borrowing costs.

S&P's move hit the euro, which fell to US$1.2869 and 100.46 yen in afternoon Asian trade from US$1.2887 and 100.74 yen in New York late Wednesday.

And the dollar slipped to 78.07 yen from 78.18 yen.

The dollar got a little support from the U.S. central bank's latest outlook on the world's number one economy.

However, Wall Street was unimpressed. The Dow fell 0.95 percent, the S&P 500 dropped 0.62 percent and the Nasdaq gave up 0.43 percent.

Also sapping confidence are worries over the upcoming earnings season, with most market-watchers expecting a poor batch of results reflecting a slowdown in the global economy.

Adding to these fears Wednesday were comments from U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa, which said it had cut its growth forecasts because of the slowdown in China.

G-7 finance ministers began a meeting to discuss the plodding global economy as well as the yen's ongoing strength, which is hammering Japan's economy.

The gathering comes as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank prepare to hold their annual meetings. Earlier this week the IMF slashed its global growth estimates for this year and next, citing the eurozone crisis, a weak U.S. recovery and a slowdown in China.

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