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Asian stock markets decline amid Greece fears

Currency traders work under a screen indicating the exchange rate, above, of the U.S. dollar against Japanese yen and the Nikkei 225 index, at a foreign exchange firm in Tokyo, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. The dollar was at a three-month high against the Japanese yen after the Bank of Japan said it would increase its economic stimulus program as Asian stock markets surged Wednesday after Greece indicated a willingness to commit to spending cuts to secure its bailout. Currency traders work under a screen indicating the exchange rate, above, of the U.S. dollar against Japanese yen and the Nikkei 225 index, at a foreign exchange firm in Tokyo, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012. The dollar was at a three-month high against the Japanese yen after the Bank of Japan said it would increase its economic stimulus program as Asian stock markets surged Wednesday after Greece indicated a willingness to commit to spending cuts to secure its bailout. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
By Joe McDonald
AP Business Writer / February 15, 2012
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BEIJING—Asian stock markets were mostly lower Thursday, following Europe and Wall Street down amid growing fears the latest deal to resolve Greece's debts is faltering.

Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index shed 0.2 percent to 9,238.63 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was off 0.8 percent at 21,194.4. Seoul's Kospi fell 1.1 percent to 2,002.60.

Global markets rose briefly Wednesday on news China would keep investing in Europe and Greece would fulfill obligations imposed by its creditors. But those hopes waned after a European official warned Greece's assurances might be inadequate, possibly jeopardizing the latest infusion of money from its European partners.

Asian investors were put off by the lack of a clear outcome over Greece.

"The uncertainty upset the market, especially last night in New York," said Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean Securities in Hong Kong. "I think people are resigned to the fact that Greece really is a lost cause. It doesn't make sense to throw good money after bad."

China's Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.8 percent to 2,361.0. Taipei's Taiex was down 0.3 percent at 7,977.08 and Sydney's S&P ASX 200 shed 1.6 percent to 4,183.5. Singapore's benchmark declined 0.7 percent to 2,989.47.

Asian traders have been disappointed by Beijing's failure to take more aggressive steps to boost slowing growth by easing credit and investment curbs imposed earlier to fight inflation and surging housing costs, Lun said.

"Of course the play is now for the Chinese government to increase liquidity and relax controls on the property market. But that hasn't happened," Lun said.

China's central bank governor on Wednesday expressed confidence in Europe, his country's biggest trading partner, and said Beijing will keep buying European government debt.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly expressed sympathy and support for Europe but have made no financial commitments. European leaders are hoping Beijing will contribute to a bailout fund from its $3.2 trillion in foreign reserves.

Greece's creditors want Athens to make up a euro325 million ($425 million) funding gap and present written guarantees the governing coalition's party leaders will carry out the plan if they come to power. European governments worry that after elections expected in April, Greek politicians might renege on austerity measures due to public opposition.

Some analysts have called for an "orderly default," letting Greece eliminate most or all of its debts, others have warned repercussions could be severe, damaging confidence in other European governments.

For weeks, many analysts have wondered if the bailout loans would be enough given the size of Greece's debts. Now, there is speculation they may not come in time anyway. Greece has a chunk of loans coming due in March.

Britain's FTSE shed 0.1 percent on Wednesday, while benchmarks in France and Germany both rose 0.4 percent.

Wall Street also fell on anxiety over Greece. The Dow Jones industrial average suffered its biggest one-day decline this year, falling 97.33 points to 12,780.95.

The Standard & Poor's 500 lost 7.27 points to 1,343.23, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 16 points to 2,915.83.

On currency markets, the dollar fell to 78.39 yen while the euro held steady at $1.303.

Benchmark crude was down 27 cents to $101.53 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.06 to settle at $101.80 per barrel in New York on Wednesday. Brent crude was steady at $118.93 per barrel in London.

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