By Pamela Sampson, The Associated Press
BANGKOK - World stock markets were mixed Wednesday, hours before Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is to deliver remarks before Congress on the state of the U.S. economy.
The Fed is also scheduled to release the minutes of its most recent policy meeting, which along with the Congressional testimony will undergo scrutiny for clues about whether the U.S. central bank is closer to winding down its aggressive bond-buying program.
Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney, said he expects Bernanke, who recently indicated that the Fed was keeping its options open depending on how the economy improves, to stay on message.
"It would be supportive of stocks," Spooner said, if Bernanke reiterates that the Fed "has not made any decisions or isn't close to any tapering off unless conditions improve further."
Britain's FTSE 100 fell nearly 0.3 per cent to 6,785.66. Germany's DAX shed 0.3 per cent to 8,444.42 and France's CAC-40 declined 0.5 per cent to 4,016.84. Wall Street showed a little more verve: Dow Jones industrial futures were marginally higher at 15,368 while S&P 500 futures added 0.1 per cent to 1,667.30.
Asian stock markets posted scattered gains after investor confidence was boosted by a Federal Reserve official's comments Tuesday that the U.S. central bank should stick with its super-easy monetary policy.
Regional Fed chief James Bullard said in a speech that the Fed should continue its monthly $85 billion in bond purchases, which drives down interest rates and thus encourages lending and spending, to help spur the U.S. economic recovery. That helped boost Asian shares, since some of that easy money inevitably washes up in stocks.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 1.6 per cent to 15,627.26, its highest close in more than five years. The Bank of Japan concluded a two-day policy meeting without any changes to its aggressive monetary easing stance, as expected, and said the world's third-largest economy is showing signs of picking up.
South Korea's Kospi rose 0.6 per cent to 1,993.83. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines also advanced. Mainland Chinese shares ended a five-day winning streak, with the Shanghai Composite Index falling 0.1 per cent to 2,302.40. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.9 per cent to 1,021.40.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.3 per cent to 5,165.40 after a survey showing a drop in consumer confidence hit banking stocks. Hong Kong's Hang Seng, where trading was suspended in the morning due to bad weather, fell 0.5 per cent to 23,261.08.
Among individual stocks, Sony Corp. surged 5.9 per cent after the electronics maker said it was considering a proposal to spin off part of its movie and music business.
Benchmark oil for July delivery was down 40 cents to $95.76 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 55 cents to close at $96.16 a barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.
In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2929 from $1.2900 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar rose to 102.94 yen from 102.56 yen.
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