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Asia: Markets sink with Wall Street on global outlook fears

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[HONG KONG] Asian markets mostly fell on Tuesday following a sharp retreat on Wall Street fuelled by increasing worries about the global economy, while investors await the Federal Reserve policy meeting this week.

A speech by President Xi Jinping later in the day is also on the radar, with hopes for some clues about possible reforms to China's economy and plans for the next year.

After a broadly upbeat start to the week, regional equities were brought back down to Earth with a bump Tuesday, with all three main indexes in New York tanking following the release of well-below-par economic data.

Dealers across the world have taken fright over a range of issues including the China-US trade war, falling oil prices, Brexit, political uncertainty, China's stuttering economy and geopolitical tensions.

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Also weighing on confidence has been the Fed's monetary tightening drive that has seen it lift interest rates through the year, making it more expensive for traders to borrow cash for investment.

The central bank concludes its latest policy meeting Wednesday and is widely expected to announce another hike, but comments afterwards by its boss Jerome Powell will be pored over, with many hoping he flags a slower pace of increases in 2019.

"There is panic in markets that the global economy is falling down a cliff and all growth-sensitive assets are in free-fall," Bernd Berg, a strategist at Woodman Asset Management, said. "All eyes are now on... Powell with pressure on the Fed mounting to provide a lifeline to stem the global market rout."

Donald Trump on Monday once again hit out at the bank's policy and called on it not to lift rates again.

'EXTREMELY BEARISH' 

In early moves, Shanghai was down 0.4 per cent, Hong Kong shed 0.1 per cent and Tokyo ended the morning 1.2 per cent lower.

Sydney dropped 0.7 per cent and Singapore dived 1.4 per cent while Seoul gave up 0.1 per cent. Wellington and Taipei retreated 0.5 per cent each and Manila sank 1.5 per cent.

"It's an extremely bearish environment and while expectations are for a dovish hike from the Fed - and for the central bank to temporarily pause its rate hike cycle at the beginning of 2019 - the markets aren't taking any solace" in that, said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at Oanda.

"A chorus of 'no rate hike' for December is echoing loudly but likely falling on deaf ears."

In Beijing, Mr Xi was due to give a speech to mark 40 years since China opened up its economy, and there are hopes he will lay out plans for further liberalisation and possibly support measures to shore up growth following a slew of weak data this year.

That will be followed by an annual conference on mapping out the country's economic path for 2019, with reports that authorities will unveil massive tax cuts.

Oil prices fell one per cent to extend Monday's losses on lingering concerns about a global supply glut after a closely watched data provider said US inventories had grown.

There are also questions about the impact of a recently promised output cut by Opec and other top producers including Russia.

"There's always a question mark over to what extent the Opec countries and Russia will or will not fulfil their promises," Pavel Molchanov, an analyst at Raymond James & Associates, told Bloomberg News. "There is naturally some scepticism."

Crude prices are around 18-month lows, having fallen about a third from recent highs at the start of October.

AFP