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Asia: Stocks fall as talk grows of Federal Reserve rate rise

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[HONG KONG] Most Asian markets swung lower Monday following healthy gains at the end of last week, as investors bet that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates before the end of the year.

Shares had soared Friday after data showed the first rise in Chinese factory prices for more than four years, fuelling hopes the world's number two economy is reaching the end of a years-long growth slowdown.

Analysts said comments from Fed boss Janet Yellen Friday suggested the US central bank would raise borrowing costs but at a steady pace.

Ms Yellen said running a "high-pressure economy" could help it overcome the damage caused by the global financial crisis.

Market voices on:

"If nothing else, this is another lower-for-longer prescription. However, these comments do not preclude a 25-basis-point rate hike this year as another step in the normalisation process," Thomas Simons, senior economist at Jefferies LLC in New York, wrote in a note to clients.

Most experts predict a rise by December at the latest and are closely watching the release this week of US industrial output and inflation data.

The prospect of higher borrowing costs weighed on Asian markets in the morning but some staged a recovery as the day wore on.

Tokyo ended 0.3 per cent higher, with a pick-up in the US dollar against the yen helping exporters, while Seoul was 0.2 per cent up.

But Shanghai closed 0.7 per cent lower and Sydney shed 0.8 per cent, while Singapore sank 0.2 per cent and Wellington tumbled 0.9 per cent.

Hong Kong was down 0.8 per cent, with casino shares taking a hammering on news that 18 sales and marketing staff of Australia's Crown Resorts - including an executive in charge of luring high-rollers to Australia - had been held in China.

While it is not clear why they are being questioned, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said it understood they were seized over soliciting Chinese big spenders to gamble in overseas casinos.

"The casino industry is in a sensitive position as recent Chinese government policy has been anti-corruption," Ronald Wan, chief executive of Partners Capital International in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg News.

Sands China sank 3.3 per cent, Wynn Macau lost 2.7 per cent and Galaxy Entertainment dived 4.3 per cent.

In Sydney, Crown Resorts - owned by billionaire James Packer - plunged almost 14 per cent.

Bangkok's market dipped 0.2 per cent, having soared Friday as news of the death of Thailand's king fuelled bargain-buying after heavy selling in his final days.

The US dollar strengthened Friday on the prospects of higher rates and maintained its gains in Asia.

The greenback bought 104.10 yen in Tokyo, from 104.16 yen in New York but still well up from the 103.66 yen Thursday. The euro bought US$1.0985 from US$1.0974 Friday but weaker than Thursday's US$1.1056.

The pound remains bolted at three-decade lows as traders fret over Britain's plans to leave the European Union.

In early European trade London and Frankfurt each lost 0.3 per cent and Paris fell 0.4 per cent.